The Ladette is dead - long live the Noughty Girl!
A snapshot of the experiences, attitudes and aspirations of young, professional British women today
Report by Anjula Mutanda MA BAC AccC, on behalf of Tia Lusso, June 2002

Introduction

The Ladette - RIP

She was bold, loud, with an allergy to housework - and an in-your-face charm that made those around her sit up and take notice. The ladette was rebellious and dared you to challenge her. She rejected "sensitive new man" as boring.

In essence, the ladette was a product of the 1990s. With the rise of men's magazines and the 'new lad' culture at the beginning of that decade, it was only a matter of time before women reflected the trend - or rather the media sought to pigeonhole them in exactly the same way as the lads. With role models like Sara Cox and Denise Van Outen, the ladette experienced a new freedom to behave badly and put Number One first. 

The lads who surrounded her found this appealing because they didn't feel threatened to change. Together they egged each other on.

But being a ladette became synonymous with pulling, sex, lager and hedonism. And although she tried to be one of the lads, the ladette's identity became shaped by male encouragement to "be like me, but don't you dare be as good as me". It seems that she was on a mission to find out who she was by fitting into someone else's idea of a modern woman.

Just as the 'new lad' movement began to wane in the late 90s, ladette culture has gone the same way. The ladette was growing up, and realising that a life of full-on hedonism was never going to be that fulfilling in the long term.

She began to recognise that to "be yourself" was more important than to be someone else's stereotype. While she pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable behaviour for a woman, it was time to move on...

The Noughty Girl is born

In order to understand what happened to the ladette, I wanted to look into the attitudes, opinions and aspirations of young women today. I talked to lots of women between the ages of 23 and 28, and what became apparent was a confident, individual attitude to life. These women are interested in and influenced by 21st Century culture, but they have a 'pick and mix' attitude to it - taking what they need and rejecting what's irrelevant. And, most of all, they don't define themselves in relation to men, 'lads' or otherwise!

I've called these women the "Noughty Girls", because their attitudes embody the spirit of the new decade, just as ladettes defined the 1990s.

In the 21st Century women have greater economic and social independence than ever before, and this is reflected in the confidence and individuality young women express today. It's therefore useful to look at the societal trends and context that women are benefiting from, or shaping themselves.

Brains over brawn

Girls are doing better than ever in education. In the year 2000, the proportion of girls achieving five grade Cs or above at GCSE was 53% compared to just 43% of boys achieving this benchmark. Girls have gained a higher proportion of passes at A-level than boys since 1992, but in 2000, for the first time, they got more A grades than boys (Social Trends 2000).

By 1994, women had become the majority in terms of new entrants to degree courses (50.7%). By 1999, women took 53.7% of new places (Social Trends).

Work power

With this educational success, young women have more job opportunities, which have increased aspirations, earnings and purchasing power. Between spring 1971 and spring 1999, the proportion of economically active women in the UK increased from 56% to 72%.

The workplace has changed in other ways too. The service industries have grown, and value new kinds of skills, such as communication and interpersonal skills. These skills, traditionally seen as "female", have become sought after in a wide range of work environments, and Emotional Intelligence has become a common feature of professional training courses run by bodies such as the Institute of Personnel and Development and The London Business School.

Young women have also tuned into the message from the workplace that, in order to get on in an uncertain job market, you have to demonstrate adaptability, flexibility and social skills.

Blokes 'n' kids

Women are also delaying having children. The average age to have a first child is now 30 (Mintel 2001). The average number of children per woman has fallen to a record low of 1.7%, and about a quarter of women born in the early 70's are now expected to remain childless (Social Trends 2000). Women are happy with their own lives and there is no rush to settle down - they are staying younger for longer.

Attitudes towards men have altered too. Men have become 'mates' - people to be with, talk to as equals and enjoy a social flirt with. Increased confidence and independence mean that women can wait for the right man to share their lives with, rather than pouncing on the first one to come along.

This is reflected in the increasing numbers of people cohabiting before (and sometimes instead of) marrying. The percentage of non-married women cohabiting in 1999 was 27% in the 20-24 age group and 39% in the 25-29 age group (Social Trends 2000). It is estimated that the trend towards cohabitation will continue in the future (Office of National Statistics).

Going it alone

In 1999, only 38% of 20-24 year-old women and 11% of 25-29 year-old women lived with their parents, whereas 56% of 20-24 year-old men and 24% of 25-29 year-old men were still at home with their parents (National Household and Dwelling Survey). This is fascinating considering that men tend to earn more than women: women's weekly earnings in 2000 were, on average, just under 75% of men's (Labour Force Survey 2000).