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

Introducing the Noughty Girl

She can choose her lifestyle and her mates to suit her identity. What makes her tick?

Having looked at the social trends and changes in attitudes to self, men and family that are shaping young women's lives today, the next step was to discover what exactly makes our Noughty Girls tick.

A qualitative survey was conducted with focus groups of young women to explore their lives. The women, aged between 23 and 28, came from a wide range of backgrounds and were in a variety of jobs, from teachers and charity workers to writers and lawyers. All were asked to talk about their lives and what mattered to them.

Mates not mums

Psychologically, right from early childhood, friendships are vital. They help us to define who we are. It is a basic human need to belong to a group where we are accepted - the first real group being the family.

Moving away from our own families, to carve out our own independence, is a healthy and vital part of growing up, but this doesn't mean we stop relating in groups - instead, we search out our surrogate family. People who will care about us, have fun with us, and give us the honest to goodness truth about how we behaved the night before. The Noughty Girl is tuned in to the importance of this shared experience. She believes in the 'groupness'.

Some of the girls interviewed described what having a close community of friends meant to them.

Sarah
, a 24 year-old writer said: "My mates and I have this thing called the Monday Night Club. The deal is this: if anyone is having a bad day or week, we all email each other and agree to meet up. It's good because it means we all see each other at least once a week, and it gets rid of the stress that we all have".

Evelyn
, a 23 year-old music journalist, also made the point about kinship and the need to share rituals usually conducted within a family, in a friendship group instead: "I would say I spend at least three nights a week with friends, usually more like four or five. Drinking wine, eating food and playing records at other people's houses happens a lot too."

Beth
, a 25 year-old teacher, added that going out four times a week was her norm, always with a mixed group of friends: "Going out to newly-opened bars is my gig; either someone's read about it or been there. So we all go to check it out. We tend to avoid old man's pubs and go to cocktail bars or painfully hip places".

Three things emerged as vital to her. Recognition: tell me you're like me. Affirmation: how am I doing? and Congratulation: you're doing great.

Chat Time

When asked what they talked to their friends about, Becky, a 26 year-old lawyer, said: "We try to avoid talking about work, because most people have had enough of it by the end of the day. Celebrity gossip, current affairs, friends and relationships. The difficulty of keeping up with different groups of friends. Money, up to a point - depressing and boring. Cultural things like Pop Idol and Big Brother. Latest movies. It's rare that there isn't a bloke involved in the conversation - we don't really have "only girls" talks because they conjure up images of Essex girls cackling over a bottle of Chardonnay".

Clare, a 25 year-old PA, said: "We talk about one another's relationships and work mainly. Other stuff includes music, fashion - I'm a mag junkie - haircuts, cinema. The fact that we feel none of us will ever be able to afford a house is becoming a popular topic. If I didn't include my male friends, I'd have lost 50% of my friendship group. They quite like a gossip and clothes too. In fact, they usually tell us girls what suits us and what doesn't - nothing sexual about it. I guess we flirt safely too! I wouldn't talk to the lads about bikini waxes though".

Sarah: "My friendship group is pretty evenly mixed. And my best mate is a guy. When we go out, we talk about relationships. In fact, it's better talking in a mixed group, because lads give you good advice".

Evelyn: "We talk about absolutely anything - mainly men and jobs. We kind of discuss the latest twists and turns of our love lives".

Housemates

Between 1983 and 1998, the numbers of new mortgages being taken out by one person increased from around 25% to 39%. The greatest increase was in the proportion of mortgages taken out by women on their own, which doubled in that period (Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions).

90% of the women interviewed were currently renting in mixed groups of men and women (and some included living with a current boyfriend), with a view to buying their own property eventually. Only 10% of the women had bought a property with a friend, rather than a partner, in order to afford their own space.

Evelyn: "I live in a shared house with a couple of guys. I don't know them that well, but apart from that, they are nice enough, although I don't socialise with them. I'd really like to live with my friends, but it isn't possible at the moment. Ideally, I'd like to live on my own".

Sarah: "I rent with my mates - three girls and one guy. Eventually, I'd love my own place, so I can really put my stamp on it".

Fiona, a 24 year-old recruitment consultant, said: "I don't mind renting at the mo, because it means I've got instant friends most of the time - maybe when I'm about 30, I'll live alone or something".