Professor Sarah Harper

Co-Director, Oxford Institute of Population Ageing; Professor of Gerontology


Professor Harper has a background in anthropology, population geography, and population studies and her early research focused on migration and the social implications of demographic change. 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.

Throughout her academic career, Professor Harper has combined academic research with external professional commitments. She 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 and in May 2017 became Director of the Royal Institution.

Internationally, Professor Harper represented the UK on the European Science Academies’ Demographic Change in Europe Panel, and serves on the Council of Advisers of Population Europe and on the Advisory Board of the World Demographic Association. 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, as well as on the Scientific Advisory Board of Natural England and on the Advisory Board for the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

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


  • Demographic and population change
  • Ageing and old people
  • Ageism
  • Late life work, retirement and pensions
  • Families and family change - including grandparents
  • Health care and long-term care
  • Social policy

Media experience

Professor Harper has extensive experience of working both in and with the media across print and broadcast, including live broadcast interviews. Before entering academia, she was a news and current affairs reporter and producer, working in both TV and radio for BBC News and for the BBC’s Newsnight.