William Vega

Provost Professor and Executive Director, USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging
Contact Information
University Park
City Center
Department of Study 
Adults and Healthy Aging
Research Interest 
Behavioral Health
Diversity/Cross Cultural
Mental Health
Cleofas and Victor Ramirez Professor of Practice, Policy, Research and Advocacy for the Latino Population. Provost Professor of Social Work, Preventive Medicine, Psychiatry, Family Medicine and Gerontology
PhD, University of California, Berkeley, 1971
MA, University of California, Berkeley, 1968
BA, University of California, Berkeley, 1967

WILLIAM VEGA is provost professor at USC with appointments in social work, preventive medicine, psychiatry, family medicine, psychology and gerontology. He is also the executive director of the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging. Prior to joining the Roybal Institute, Vega was director of the Luskin Center on Innovation and an associate provost at UCLA.

Vega was born in East Los Angeles and received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. Elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2008, Vega is a specialist in the health of Latino populations, and has conducted community and clinical research projects on health, mental health and substance abuse in the United States and Latin America.

He has published more than 190 articles and chapters, in addition to six books. Vega is currently ranked by Research Gate in the top 2 percent of authors in overall research impact, and ISI Web of Science in 2006 listed him in the top half of one percent of the most highly cited researchers worldwide in social science research over the previous 20 years.

He is the recipient of many awards including the Community, Culture and Prevention Science Award from the Society for Prevention Research, and the Award of Excellence in Research by a Senior Scientist from the National Hispanic Science Network. In 2013, Vega gave the Rema Lapouse Award lecture for excellence in research from the Mental Health, Epidemiology, and Statistics sections of the American Public Health Association.

Dr. William Vega is a man of many perspectives. In addition to social work, he holds appointments at USC in gerontology, psychology, family medicine, preventive medicine and psychiatry. He trained in sociology and criminology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is now an emeritus professor, and worked at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine. His research today extends to fields as disparate as economics and engineering. As he sees it, social work resides at the intersection of these crisscrossing disciplines, a unique vantage point from which practitioners and researchers can gauge and address the complex needs of society.

From studying mentally ill prisoners in California to conducting multicultural epidemiologic surveys across the nation, Vega has maintained his belief in an interdisciplinary approach to research. When he launched his career, many in the profession held the notion that a background in everything was really a background in nothing. But time has reversed that mentality, and Vega has watched with satisfaction as the field has become a model of academic and professional convergence.

A native of South Los Angeles, Vega developed an early interest in “society’s backwaters,” mostly minority communities with high rates of deviance and little hope of social mobility. Few studies had focused on these populations, so he set about conducting massive-scale epidemiologic studies on adolescents and substance abuse, pregnant women and drug use, and rates of mental illness among Hispanics in California.

Vega was one of the first researchers to show that the process of adapting to American society puts Mexican immigrants at much greater risk of developing mental disorders, and that living in the United States significantly increases the risk of developing drug addictions among Mexican women. Vega believes the cause of these problems is a breakdown in traditional conservative values when immigrants settle down in the United States, with families splitting apart and generational relationships changing. His research has redefined the field, and he has been listed among the most-cited researchers in social science literature worldwide during the past 20 years.
In recent years, he has focused less on documenting problems and more on solving them, bringing his polymath perspective to bear on clinical issues, such as extending quality care to traditionally underserved minority and aging populations. “I think it’s time for a revolution to take place,” he says. “This is the great challenge we’re facing right now, to make these things affordable, accessible and effective.”

Vega serves as executive director of the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging, a research center based at the USC School of Social Work that seeks to improve care for aging minority groups. He also mentors like-minded students and junior faculty, and counts this role among his most important. He tries to involve students in all processes of research, “from A to Z, so they understand how all of it works,” he says. “It’s an apprentice business. You can’t get it from courses alone.”

Awards and Distinction
USC School of Social Work Award for Excellence in Leadership and Creativity, USC School of Social Work (2013)
Elected to the Institute of Medicine National Academy of Sciences (2008)
Listed in Thompson Science for inclusion in the top 0.5% of the most highly cited authors world-wide in the category of General Social Sciences (2006)
Community, Culture, and Prevention Science Award, Society for Prevention Research (2002)
National Award of Excellence in Research by a Senior Scholar, National Hispanic Science Network on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (2002)
John C. Ribble Visiting Professorship, University of Texas – Houston Medical School (2000)
Ralph R. Sachs Visiting Scholar in Public Health, UCLA (1991)
More awards
Selected Publications

Aguirre‐Molina, M., Borreall, L. & Vega, W.A. (in press). (Eds.) Latino male health, New Brunswich, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Vega, W.A. & Sribney, W.M. (in press). Understanding the Hispanic Health Paradox through a Multi-Generational Lens: A Focus on Behavior Disorders. In G. Carlo, L.J. Crockett & M. Carranza (Eds.) 57th Annual Symposium on Motivation: Health Disparities in Youth.: NY: Springer.

Vega, W. & Gonzalez, H. (2012). Latinos "Aging in Place": Issues and Potential Solutions. In J. Angel, K. Markides, Torres-Gil (Eds.) Social Disparities in Health and Health Care.: NY: Springer. 193-205.

Breslau, J., Hinton, L., Tancredi, D., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Medina-Mora, M.E., Vega, W.A., Saito, N. & Kendler, K. (2011). Migration from Mexico to the US and conduct disorder: A cross-national study.  Archives of General Hospital Psychiatry. 68(12), 423-431.

Interian, A., Ang, A., Gara, M.A., Rodriguez, M.A. & Vega, W.A. (2011). The long-term trajectory of depression among Latinos in primary care and its relationship to depression care disparities. General Hospital Psychiatry. 33(2), 94-101.

Breslau, J. Borges, G., Tancredi, D., Saito, N., Kravitz, R., Hinton, L., Vega, W.A., Medina-Mora, M.E. & Aguilar-Gaxiola, S. (2011). Migration from Mexico to the United States and the subsequent risk for depressive and anxiety disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry. 68, 428-433.

Vega, W.A., Ang, A., Rodriguez, M. & Finch, B.K. (2011). Neighborhood protective effects on depression Latinos. American Journal of Community Psychology. 47, 114-126.

Interian, A., Ang, A., Rodriguez, M., Link, B. & Vega, W.A. (2010). Stigma and depression treatment utilization among Latinos: Examining the utility of four stigma measures. Psychiatric Services. 61, 373-379.

Gonzalez, H.M., Vega, W.A. & Tarraf, W. (2010). Health Care Quality Perceptions among Foreign-Born Latinos and the Importance of Speaking the Same Language. Journal of American Board of Family Medicine. 23(6), 745-752.

Gonzalez, H.M., Tarraf, W., Whitfield, K.E. & Vega, W.A. (2010). The epidemiology of major depression and ethnicity in the United States. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 44, 1043-1051.

Vega, W.A. & Rodriguez, M. (2010). Addressing stigma of depression in Latino primary care patients. General Hospital Psychiatry. 32, 182-191.

Gonzalez, H.M., Vega, W.A., Williams, D.R., Tarraf, W., West, B.T. & Neighbors, H.W. (2010). Depression care in the United States: Too little or too few. Archives of General Psychiatry. 67, 37-46.

Vega, W.A. & Gil, A.G. (2009). Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs. In Aguirre-Molina, M., Borreall, L., Vega, W.A (Eds.) Latino Male Health.: New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Vega, W.A., Kopelowicz, A. & Lopez, S. (2009). Disabling Conditions. In Ruiz P, Primm A (Eds.) Addressing Mental Health Disparities: Clinical Considerations.: Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Vega, W.A., Borreall, L. & Aguierre-Molina, M. (2009). Epilogue to Latino Mens’ Health. In Aguirre- Molina, M., Borreall, L., Vega, W.A (Eds.) Latino Male Health.: New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Vega, W.A., Aguirre-Molina, M. & Borreal, L. (2009). Social and structural framework for the analysis of Latino Males’ Health. In Aguirre-Molina, M., Borreall, L., Vega, W.A (Eds.) Latino Male Health.: New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Vega, W.A. & Gil, A.G. (2009). Substance use in minority populations. In Loue, Sana (Eds.) Determinants of Minority Health and Wellness.: NY: Springer.

Gonzalez, H.M., Vega, W.A., Rodriguez, M.A., Tarraf, W. & Sribney, W.M. (2009). Diabetes awareness and knowledge among Latinos, Does a usual source of healthcare matter? Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Perez, D., Ang, A. & Vega, W.A. (2009). Effects of health insurance on perceived quality of care among Latinos in the United States. Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Rodriguez, M.A. & & Vega, W.A. (2009). Confronting inequities in Latino health care. Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Diaz, E., Miskimen, T., Vega, W.A., et al. (2009). Inconsistencies in diagnosis and symptom phenomenology in bilingual and English speaking Latinos, and Euro-Americans: Results froma  multi-site study. Psychiatric Services. 60, 1379-1382.

Vega, W.A., Rodriguez, M.A. & Gruskin, E. (2009). Health disparities in the Latino population. Epidemiologic Reviews. 31, 99-112.

Gonzalez, H.M., Ceballos, M., West, B.T., Bowen, M.E., Tarraf, W. & Vega, W.A. (2009). Acculturation and the health of older Mexican Americans in the long run. American Journal of Public Health. 99(99). 1879-1885.

Vega, W.A, Canino, G., Cao, Z. & Alegria, M. (2009). Prevalence and correlates of dual diagnoses in U.S. Latinos' drug and alcohol dependence. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 100, 32-38.

Vega, W.A. & Sribney, W. (2008). Latino population demographics, risk factors and depression: A case study of the Mexican American Prevalence and Services Survey. In Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Kramer, E. & Gullotta, T.P. (Eds.). Depression in Latinos Handbook. NY: Springer.

Shrout, P.E., Alegria, M., Canino, G., Guaraccia, P.J., Vega, W.A., Duan, N. & Cao, Z. (2008). Testing language effects in psychiatric epidemiology surveys with randomized experiments: Results from the NLAAS. American Journal of Epidemiology. 168(3), 345-352.

Vega, W.A. & Lewis-Fernandez, R. (2008). Ethnicity and variability of psychotic symptoms. Current Psychiatry Reports. 10, 223-228.

Canino, G., Vega, W.A., Sribney, W.M., Warner, L.A. & Alegria, M. (2008). Social relationships, social assimiliation and substance use disorder among adult Latinos in the U.S. Journal of Drug Issues. 38, 69-102.

Interian, A. Guarnaccia, P., Vega, W.A. & Escobar, J. (2007). Perception of stigma among Latinos receiving antidepressants. Psychiatric Services. 58, 1591-1594.

Vega, W.A. & Politt, A. & Mays, R. (2007). Telepsychiatry: Implications for treatment of Lation persistent mentally ill patients. Psychiatric Services. 58, 6.

Galaif, E., Newcomb, M.D., Vega, W.A. & Krell, R.D. (2007). Protective and risk influences of drug use among a multiethnic sample of adolescent boys. Journal of Drug Education. 37, 249-276.

Kristofco, R.E., Stewart, A.J. & Vega, W.A. (2007). Perspectives on dispartieis in depression care. Journal of Continuing Education for HealthCare Professions. 27(1), S18-26.

Vega, W.A., Chen, K. & Williams, J. (2007). Smoking, drugs, and other behavioral health problems among multiethnic adolescents in the NHSDA. Addictive Behaviors. 32, 1949-1956.

Vega, W.A., Karno, M., Alegria, M., et al. (2007). Research issues for improving treatment of U.S. Hispanics with persistent mental disorders. Psychiatric Services. 58, 385-394.

Vega, W.A. (2006). Cultural Elements in Treating Hispanic Populations: Dialogue on Science and Addiction. Bayamon: Puerto Rico: Caribbean Basin Addiction Technology Transfer Network Monograph Series.

Escobar, J.I. & Vega, W.A. (2006). Cultural issues and psychiatric diagnosis: Providing a general background for considering substance use diagnoses. Addiction. 101, 40-47.

Marin, H., Escobar, J.I. & Vega, W.A. (2006). Mental illness in American Hispanics: A review of the evidence. FOCUS: Psychopharmacology; Psychotherapy; Race, Gender, and Ethnicity; Clinical Neuroscience, and Gender. 4, 23-37.

Warner, Valdez, A., Vega, W.A., de la Rosa, M., Turner, C. & Canino, G. (2006). Hispanic drug abuse in an evolving cultural context. Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 84, 8-17.

Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Medina-Mora, M.E., Magana, C.G., Vega, W.A., Alejo-Garcia, C., Real-Quintanar, T., Vazquez, L., Ballesteros. P.D., Ibarra, J. & Rosales, H. (2006). Drug abuse research in Latin America: Epidemiology, service use, and HIV. Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 84, s85-s93.

Minsky, S., Petti, T., Gara, M., Vega, W.A., Lu, W. & Kiely, G. (2006). Ethnicity and Clinical Psychiatric Diagnosis in Childhood. Journal of Mental Health Services Research. 84, 85-94.

Delgado, P., Alegria, M., Canive, J., Diaz, E., Escobar, J.I., Kopelwowicz, A., Oquendo, M., Ruiz, P. & Vega, W.A. (2006). Depression and access to treatment among U.S. Hispanics: A review of the literature and policy recommendations for future research. FOCUS: Psychopharmacology; Psychotherapy; Race, Gender, and Ethnicity; Clinical Neuroscience, and Gender. 4, 38-47.

Vega, W.A., Sribney, W.M., Miskimen, T.M., Escobar, J.I. & Aguilar-Gaxiola, S. (2006). Putative psychotic symptoms in the Mexican American population: Prevalence and co-occurence with psychiatric disorders. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 194, 471-477.

Vega, W.A. (2005). The future of culturally competent mental health care for Latino immigrants. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Services. 3, 191-198. Reprinted in Gonzalez, M.J. & Gonzalez-Ramos, G. (Eds.). Mental Health Care for New Hispanic Immigrants. Haworth Press.

Adtjian, S. & Vega, W.A. (2005). Disparities in mental health treatment, & outcomes among U.S. race and ethnic minorities. Psychiatric Services. 56, 1-3.

Vega, W.A. (2005). Higher stakes for cultural competence. General Hospital Psychiatry. 27, 446-450.

Chen, K.W., Killeya-Jones, L.A. & Vega, W.A. (2005). Prevalence and co-occurrence of psychiatric symptom clusters in the U.S. adolescent population using DISC predictive scales. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health. 1, 22.

Vega, W.A. & Gil, A.G. (2005). Revisiting drugr progression: Long range effects of early tobacco use. Addiction. 100, 1358-1369.

Harris, R.J., Firestone, J.M. & Vega, W.A. (2005). The interaction of country of origin, acculturation, and gender role ideology on wife abuse. Social Science Quarterly. 86, 463-483.

Vega, W.A. & Sribney, W.M. (2005). Seeking care for alcohol problems: Patterns of need and treatment among Mexican origin adults in Central California. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly. 23, 29-5.

Alegria, M., Takeuchi, D., Canino, G., Duan, N., Shrout, P., Meng, X., Vega, W.A., Zane, N., Vila, D., Woo, M., Vera, M., Guarnaccia, P., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Sue, S., Escobar, J., Lin, K-M., & Gong, F. (2005). Considering context, place, and culture: The National Latino and Asian American Study. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research. 13, 208-220.

Interian, A., Guarnaccia, P., Vega, W.A., Gara, M., Like, R., Escobar & Diaz-Martinez (2004). The relationship between ataque de nervios and unexplained neurological symptoms. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 193, 32-39.

Kessler, R.C., Abelson, J., Demler, O., Escobar, J.I., Gibbons, M., Guyer, M.E., Howes, M.J., Jin, R., Vega, W.A., Walters, E.E., Wang, P., Zaslavsky, A. & Zheng, H. (2004). Clinical calibration of DSM-IV diagnosis in the world of mental health (WMH) version of the world health organization (WHO) composite international diagnostic interview (CIDI). International Journa of Methods in Psychiatric Research. 13, 122-139.

Finch, B.K., Frank, F. & Vega, W.A. (2004). Acculuration and acculturation stress: A social-epidemiological approach to Mexican migrant farm workers' health. International Migration Review. 38, 236-262.

Vega, W.A., Sribney, W.M., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S. & Kolody, B. (2004). 12- month prevalence of DSM III-R psychiatric disorders among Mexican Americans: Nativity, social assimiliation, and age determinants. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 192, 532-541.

Vega, W.A., Kessler, R.C., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Andrade, L., Bijl, R., Borges, G., Caraveo-Anduaga, J.J., Dewitt, D.J., Kolody, B., Molnar, K.R., Walters, E.E. & Wittchen, H.U. (2003). Cross-national comparisons of comorbidities between substance use disorders and mental disorders: Results from the International Consortium of Psychiatric Epidemiology. In W.J. Bukoski & Z. Sloboda (Eds.) Handbook for Drug Abuse Prevention Theory, Science, and Practice. (pp. 447-472).: New York: Plenum Publishing Corporation.

Finch, B. & Vega, W.A. (2003). Employment frustration and alcohol abuse/dependence among labor migrants in California. Journal of Immigrant Health. 5(4), 181-186.

Vega, W.A., Sribney, W. & Achara-Abrams, I. (2003). Co-occurring alcohol, drug, and other Psychiatric disorders among Mexican origin people in the United States. American Journal of Public Health. 93, 1057-1064

Vega, W.A. & Sribney, W. (2003). Parental behavioral risk factors and social assimilation in alcohol dependence of Mexican Americans. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 64, 167-175

Firestone, J.M., Harris, R.I. & Vega, W.A. (2003). The impact of gender role ideology, male expectancies, and acculturation on wife abuse. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. 26(5), 549-564.

Minsky, S., Vega, W.A., Miskimen, T., Gara, M. & Escobar, J. (2003). Diagnostic patterns of Latino, African American, and European psychiatric patients. Archives of General Psychiatry. 60, 637-644.

Finch, B., Catalano, R.C., Novaco, R. & Vega, W.A. (2003). Employment discrimination and alcohol abuse or dependence among labor migrants in California. Journal of Immigrant Health. 5, 181-186.