Sarah Harper


Professor of Gerontology and Senior Research Fellow Nuffield College

MA, Cantab; DPhil, Oxon

Tel : +44 (0) 1865 612802
E-mail :

Sarah is Professor of Gerontology at the University of Oxford, Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing and Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College. 

Sarah serves on the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, which advises the Prime Minister on the scientific evidence for strategic policies and frameworks. She currently chairs the UK government Foresight Review on Ageing Societies, 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. 

Sarah has a background in anthropology 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.  Sarah has just completed a monograph on Population Challenges for Oxford University Press (2015), and is working her next book for Cambridge University Press  Population and Environmental Change.

Following her doctoral work in population studies 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 News Night. 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. On returning to the University of Oxford she founded the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing with funding from the US National Institutes of Health.  

Throughout her academic career, Sarah has combined academic research with external professional commitments.  She was Chair of  HSBC’s  Global Ageing Forum and is a former Trustee of Third Age Employment Network.  She worked with the Office of the Prime Minister and Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on the Government Ageing Strategy, and with the Department of Children, Schools and Families, developing their Horizons Programme, and the UK Government Office of Science Advisory Boards for the Demography Review. Sarah serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of Natural England and the Advisory Board, English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) 

Internationally, Sarah represents 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 is an International Advisor on the University of Tokyo Global Leadership Initiative and represents Oxford on the Ageing and Demography Collaboration of the  International Association of Research Universities. 

Sarah served as Advisor to the Malaysian Government, Advisor to the Singapore Government’s Third Age Council and as a Specialist Advisor for the European Commission Demographic Change Programme. She served as an International Advisor to the Swedish Academy, European Advisor to the MacArthur Foundation, Advisor on Ageing Issues to the Calouste Gulbenkian  Foundation, Lisbon  and was Global Advisor on Ageing Issues for HSBC plc. She served on the Royal Society’s Working Group on Population, the Wellcome Trust Health Consequences of Population Change Panel and on the World Economic Forum, Global Agenda Council on Ageing Societies.

Alongside keynotes at academic conferences, Sarah has spoken at World Economic Forums in China and Australia, presented various TED and TED linked talks.  Sarah was invited to give the 2012 Oxford-London Lecture on the subject of population change.

Recent publications 


  • International Handbook of Ageing and Public Policy, Edward Elgar (with Kate Hamblin, 2014)
  • Ageing in East Asia, Critical Essays, Brill (2014) 
  • Ageing in Asia. Routledge, London, (with Roger Goodman, 2008)
  • Ageing Societies: Myths, Challenges and Opportunities, Hodder Arnold, London (2006).
  • Families in Ageing Societies, Oxford University Press, Oxford (2004).

Recent Papers

  • Economic and social implications of aging societies Science 31 October 2014: 346 (6209), 587-591
  • Implications of 20th Century policy models for 21st Century demography, in Torp, C Ageing in the 20th Century, CUP (2014) 
  • Achieving the Replacement Fertility Rate, in Creating a Sustainable Food Future World Resource Institute, Washington 2013 (with Searchinger, T., Hanson, C., Waite, R.,  Lipinski, B., Leeson, G.)
  • Population-Environment Interactions: European migration, population composition and climate change, in Environmental and Resource Economics  2013 Vol 55: 525-541
  • Demographic and Environmental Transitions in Goldin,  Is the Planet Full?  OUP (2013)

Current DPhil  students

  • Matthew Tye: Increasing Longevity in Vietnam: Ageing and the Life Course
  • Patricia O'Neill: The Changing Roles and Status of Chinese Daughters
  • Burcu Ozdemir: Intergenerational Solidarity between Adult Children and Elderly Parents in Turkey
  • Francesca Ghillani: Transnational Bodies: The Effects of Migration on the Dynamics of Body and Self

Graduated DPhil Students

  • Jaco Hoffman (2012): The Generational Contract in Contemporary South Africa: Configurations and Reconfigurations in the Context of HIV/AIDS
  • Chul Hoi Koo (2010): Reinforcement of Income Inequality in Later Life: a Case Study of Korea (DPhil, Oxon)
  • Koichi Mikami (2010): Technology as a Social Process:  Cultural Theory Approach to Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine in the UK and Japan (DPhil, Oxon)
  • Samir K. Sinha (2008): The Sociology of Interprofessional Relations:  A Case Study of English Care Trusts (DPhil, Oxon)