Contrary to popular opinion, the majority of young adults say they go to pubs and clubs to socialise with friends rather than to get drunk. Going out to dance and listen to music is more highly rated than meeting someone of the opposite sex.
These unexpected findings come from a year-long study by researchers in Newcastle University's department of social policy, who interviewed random samples of both local young people and students, and then followed them round the local nightspots to check whether their actions matched their words.
Project leader Robert Hollands said that in the past, "going out" was a relatively brief rite of passage before taking on work and family commitments.
But the loss of traditional job opportunities, with lack of money militating against early marriage and children, meant that young adults were now going out regularly in their 20s and even 30s.
The social life revolving round group drinking, fashion, music, and dance has effectively turned into the modern equivalent of a community, Dr Hollands says. He argues that this should lead to improvements in the existing nightlife, rather than opposing its extension on the assumption that more night spots will require more policing.
"The debate has been stultified in the past because people assume that it's a problem to be contained rather than a positive opportunity. These are groups of people in their late 20s who know how to drink and stay out of trouble."
The young adults generally had a high regard for Newcastle nightlife, but it was still seen as a potential economic growth area. "Over three quarters of young adults support the extension of licensing hours and over 80 per cent said they would use late night cafes," Dr Hollands said.
Dr Hollands found that locals and students had different patterns of nightlife. Locals tended to start early on an extended pub crawl, while students would go briefly to a pub before going on to a club.
"With high levels of unemployment, there is a contrast with students coming in who obviously have money. Twenty-five thousand students spend Pounds 14 million on entertainment in the city," he said.