Girls just wanna have... more
Family expenditure is falling - unless you have teenage daughters, says Cassandra Jardine.
To our great delight my husband has discovered that the local dry cleaners darns clothes. Really, you can hardly tell that his trousers and shirts have seen better days unless you get within ten feet. As for my clothes, fortunately no one is going to notice the holes and baggy elastic of my superannuated M & S underwear.
Our teenage daughters, however, do not go around looking like they dressed out of the Scope shop’s reject bin. Extensive wardrobes full of the logo-covered bits and pieces are strewn all over their bedroom floors while the girl in question usually sits in the middle wailing: “I haven’t got anything to wear.” Even as she howls, the postman is usually staggering to the door bearing another few parcels from Asos.
Scenes like this are familiar to every other household I know containing girls of secondary school or university age. So it may come as no surprise to learn that a team of researchers based in Quebec and Tunisia, led by a professor Bernard Fortin at Laval University, have looked back over the Office of National Statistics’ family spending figures for the 1980s and 1990s and discovered that girls have a way of diverting the family income to suit their own ends.
Boys, on the other hand, are relatively cheap and undemanding. Whereas a girl will ask for every consumer good - or bad - that they have ever seen on television or the internet, the main issue with teenage boys is to get them to wash their hair at all. Or indeed speak.
Quite why these Canadians and Tunisians care about the daft extravagances of British parents is hard to fathom. Do they just want to laugh at us? Are they so much better at withstanding the wails and wheedling of girls who make out that they cannot possibly last another day without the latest mobile phone/boxset of Girls of the Playboy Mansion/holiday in Spain/ankle-breaking shoes?
They could hardly be worse. I don’t look forward to the ONS’s figures on the Noughties, but I can take a guess at what they will say. Something like this: household expenditure took a dip with recession and rising prices, however, certain areas were (as the Government likes to put it) ring fenced. These essentials include eyebrow-threading, navel jewellery, and sunglasses so large and dark that it would be simpler to stay in bed, and, of course, mocktails and tapas on Friday nights.
We, the indulgent parents, are to blame. All we need to do to stop this rampant consumerism is to say “No” more often, a word which, according the the researchers, we first learn to utter when our children pass the age of 21.
I tried it the other day. “But I can’t go to the ball, I haven’t been to a hairdresser,” one of mine wailed earlier this week. “Oh yes you can,” I replied. “Get a friend to curl your hair for you like we always did. If you like, I could do it for you.” It was enough to shut her up. So are my eye-roll inducing lectures about earning their own money and saving for something they desperately crave.
But I can’t help but sympathise with my daughters. It’s horrible being a teenager. For half a dozen years, everyone is eyeing each other up relentlessly, dissecting every slight blemish or lapse in fashion. “We haven’t developed personalities yet,” one of my daughters argued the other day, “So we have to look like everyone else, and own the same things.” Before long, with luck, the opposite will be true.
Professor Fortin concludes that: “Advertisers could use the knowledge to home in on children to sell goods not in the past considered of interest to teenagers.” I have a hunch that advertisers are clever people who may have already worked that out. Indeed, I rather suspect that the reason why parents are bombarded with sufficient demands to absorb the entire family budget, is that advertisers are already persuading teenagers, often through social networking, that they need almost everything on earth apart from a Zimmer frame and a Stannah stair lift.
Come to think of it, I can see my daughters arguing that a Stannah would be rather a cool way to come downstairs, if only we got the right colour and had cushions made for it.