Sarah Harper

Sarah Harper, Director of the Royal Institution

  • Credit: Oxford Institute of Population Ageing


Sarah Harper, MA Girton College, Cambridge; DPhil, St Catherine’s College, Oxford.

Sarah is Professor of Gerontology at the University of Oxford and Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing which she founded in 1997 with funding from the US National Institute of Aging.

Sarah has a background in anthropology, population geography, and population studies and her early research focused on migration and the social implications of demographic change. After her undergraduate studies at Cambridge, and her doctoral work at Oxford, Sarah trained with the BBC as a News and Current Affairs Reporter and Producer, working in both TV and Radio for BBC News and BBC Newsnight. After leaving the BBC she took up a lectureship at the University of London, and subsequently moved to the USA where she was professor in public policy at the University of Chicago. Her current research on demographic change addresses the global and regional impact of falling fertility and increasing longevity, with a particular interest in Asia and Africa. Recent research has focused on women’s education and empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa, and the impact of this on falling fertility rates.  Her latest book is How Population Change will Transform our World, (Oxford University Press 2016) and she is working on her next book for Cambridge University Press on the interaction of population, environmental and technological change.

Throughout her academic career, Sarah has combined academic research with external professional commitments.  Sarah was appointed in 2014 to the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, which advises the Prime Minister on the scientific evidence for strategic policies and frameworks.   She chaired the UK government’s Foresight Review on Ageing Populations, and the European Ageing Index Panel for the UNECE Population Unit. She is a Governor of the Pensions Policy Institute. Sarah was the first holder of the International Chair in Old Age Financial Security, at the University of Malaya (2009/10) and her research was recognised by the 2011 Royal Society for Public Health: Arts and Health Research Award. She is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropology Institute and of the Royal Society of Arts.

Internationally, Sarah represented the UK on the European Science Academies’ Demographic Change in Europe Panel, serves on the Council of Advisors of Population Europe and on the Advisory Board of the World Demographic Association. Sarah represents Oxford on the Ageing and Demography Collaboration of the International Association of Research Universities.  She served on the Royal Society’s Working Group on People and the Planet, the Wellcome Trust Health Consequences of Population Change Panel and on the World Economic Forum, Global Agenda Council on Ageing Societies. Sarah served on the Scientific Advisory Board of Natural England and is on the Advisory Board for the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Sarah also serves on the Editorial Advisory Panel of Nature Sustainability.

Sarah is a frequent speaker at literary and scientific festivals, including World Economic Forums, TED talks, Hay, Cheltenham and Edinburgh Festivals.