MARY C. WATERS is the PVK Professor of Arts and Sciences and the John L. Loeb Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. Her work has focused on the integration of immigrants and their children, the transition to adulthood for the children of immigrants, intergroup relations, and the measurement and meaning of racial and ethnic identity.
Waters received a B.A. in Philosophy from Johns Hopkins University in 1978, an M.A. in Demography (1981) and an M.A. (1983) and Ph.D. in Sociology (1986) from the University of California, Berkeley. She has taught at Harvard University since 1986, and was chair of the Sociology Department from 2001-2005 and acting chair Spring 2007, 2013-2014, and 2016-2017.
Waters was the chair of the National Academy of Sciences panel on The Integration of Immigrants into American Society. Their report was released in September 2015.
She is also currently co-directing, with Jean Rhodes of University of Massachusetts Boston, the RISK Project, a study of survivors of Hurricane Katrina. This study includes pre-hurricane data on physical and mental health and follows survivors and their children wherever they have relocated.
Her most recent books are Coming of Age in America: The Transition to Adulthood in the Twenty-First Century (co-edited with Patrick J. Carr, Maria J. Kefalas, and Jennifer Holdaway) (University of California Press, 2011) and The Next Generation: The Children of Immigrants in Europe and North America (co-edited with Richard Alba) (New York University Press, 2010). Her study of the children of immigrants, Inheriting the City: The Second Generation Comes of Age (with Jennifer Holdaway, Philip Kasinitz, and John Mollenkopf) (Harvard University and Russell Sage Press, 2008), won the 2010 American Sociological Association Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship, the Mira Komarovsky Award of the Eastern Sociological Society, and the Thomas and Znaniecki Award of the International Migration Section of the ASA. Her 1999 book Black Identities: West Indian Immigrant Dreams and American Realities (Harvard University Press) won five scholarly awards, including the Mira Komarovsky Award of the Eastern Sociological Society, the Otis Dudley Duncan Award of the Population Section of the American Sociological Association, the Thomas and Znaniecki Award of the International Migration Section of the American Sociological Association, the Best Book Award of the Section on Race and Urban Politics of the American Political Science Association, and the Best Book Award of the Center for the Study of Inequality of Cornell University. Her other books include The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration Since 1965 (with Reed Ueda and Helen Marrow) (Harvard University Press, 2007), Becoming New Yorkers: Ethnographies of the New Second Generation (co-edited with Phillip Kasinitz and John Mollenkopf) (Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2004), Social Inequalities in Comparative Perspective (co-edited with Fiona Devine) (Blackwell Press, 2004), The New Race Question: How the Census Counts Multiracial Individuals (co-edited with Joel Perlmann) (Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2002), The Changing Face of Home: The Transnational Lives of the Second Generation (co-edited with Peggy Levitt) (Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2002), Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America (University of California Press, 1990), and From Many Strands: Ethnic and Racial Groups in Contemporary America (with Stanley Lieberson) (Russell Sage Foundation Press, 1988). She is also the author of over 75 articles and chapters on racial and ethnic identity, immigrant assimilation, and natural disaster recovery.
Waters’ work has been supported by the Russell Sage, Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon, W.T. Grant, MacArthur Foundation, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations, as well as by the Foundation for Child Development, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation. She has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She was elected to membership in the Sociological Research Association in 1993. In 2003-2004, she was named a Walter Channing Cabot Faculty Fellow for “eminence in history, literature or art." In 2005, she was elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society; in 2006, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and in 2010, to the National Academy of Sciences.
Waters has won wide recognition for her teaching and advising, including seven prizes for undergraduate teaching. In 2018, she was named the first PVK Professor of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, the highest honor recognizing scholarly achievement that the Faculty of Arts & Sciences can bestow on one of its members. She was named a Harvard College Professor 1999-2004 to honor excellence in teaching. She was director of the Undergraduate Program in Sociology from 1993-2001 and 2012-2013. Her lecture for graduate students, “Teaching, Research and Having a Life,” is a popular video at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching at Harvard University. She teaches courses on research methods, immigration and ethnicity, race and ethnic relations, American society and public policy, and the sociology of sports. Seven of her graduate advisees have won National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grants. Two of her advisees, Wendy Roth and Helen Marrow, have won the American Sociological Association's Best Dissertation Award.
Waters has testified twice before Congress on how the census should measure racial and ethnic identity. She served on the Advisory Board to the U.S. Census as a representative of the Population Association of America from 1999-2005; she has also consulted on the Census, and she was a Census Scholar at the Census Bureau in the summer of 2011. She has served as a member of the study section of the National Institute of Child Health and Development and of the Committee on the Impact of International Migration of the National Academy of Science. She is a Member and former Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Russell Sage Foundation and a member of the Final Selection Committee of the Guggenheim Foundation. Waters is on the Board of Directors of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. She was an elected member of the Board of Directors of the Population Association of America, a member of the International Migration Committee, and the Research on Katrina Advisory Committee of the Social Science Research Council, and she has been a member of the MacArthur Network on the Transition to Adulthood. She has held numerous elected offices and served on committees of the American Sociological Association and the Eastern Sociological Society.
At Harvard, Waters has served as an elected member of the Faculty Council, and as a member of the Human Subjects Committee (IRB), the Committees on Ethnic Studies, Social Studies, Social Policy, Women’s Studies, Undergraduate Education, Graduate Education, Public Service, Freshman Seminars, Athletics, Rights and Responsibilities, the Policy Committee of the David Rockefeller Center on Latin America, the Native American Program, and the Board of Syndics of Harvard University Press. She was a member of the Task Force on General Education that redesigned Harvard's general education program in 2007. She is currently a member of the Executive Committee of the Robert Wood Johnson Postdoctoral Program and the Population Center at Harvard. She is faculty advisor to numerous student groups and has run a Graduate Workshop on International Migration for the past fifteen years. This workshop attracts students and faculty from Harvard’s many graduate and professional schools and the surrounding academic community to share ongoing research in the area of international migration.
Waters co-directed the Harvard Manchester Summer Workshop on Social Change and Immigration for graduate students from the United States and Europe during the summers of 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011. During 2007-2008, she was the Hallsworth Visiting Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester.
Mary Waters grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York, the eldest of eight children. She attended Our Lady Help of Christians elementary school and graduated from Saint Saviour High School in 1975. She developed her interest in immigration and ethnicity by listening to the stories of her immigrant grandparents and because of the importance of ethnicity and race in day-to-day life in Brooklyn. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband Ric and their three children, Katie, age 18, Harry, age 16, and Maggie, age 14. Mary and Ric spend much of their free time attending their children's many ice hockey, soccer, baseball, and lacrosse practices and games.