How Rachel's 'Bachelorette' Season Is Breaking Barriers Outside Of Diversity

Craig Sjodin/ABC

Rachel Lindsay made headlines when she was announced as the next Bachelorette, not only because she was still competing on The Bachelor, but also because she was the first black Bachelor or Bachelorette in the franchise's history. While it's frustrating that it took the reality dating series this long to feature a black lead (over 30 seasons), Rachel is jump-starting a new, potentially more diverse future for the series. But beyond Rachel making the franchise more diverse racially, there's another way that Rachel is changing things up as the Bachelorette — and it has nothing to do with her race and all to do with how old Rachel Lindsay is.

Before Nick's season of The Bachelor, Bustle looked at the 11 most recent seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette to compare the ages of the contestants against the person they were pursuing. The overwhelming trend was that while the Bachelor is usually older than his contestants, the Bachelorette is usually younger than hers. That means, the casting for the franchise usually stuck with that frustrating stereotype that men prefer younger women. But that's all about to change thanks to Rachel's season of The Bachelorette.

At 31, Rachel was one of the oldest contestants on Nick's season (alongside Danielle M.). As Nick was 36 during his season of The Bachelor, I had been disappointed that the show didn't give him anyone older than 31 to compete — especially considering that four women were only 23 years old, which is 13 years younger than Nick. Not that there's anything wrong with dating younger, but the show could have varied things up a bit more. Two women out of Nick's final three ended up being some of the older contestants — Rachel at 31 and Vanessa (the winner) at 29 — so would casting someone of equal age to Nick or even older really have been a problem?

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If you feel the same level of outrage as I do about this, then you'll have another reason to love Rachel (since I'm assuming you already love her, as you should). Because she's bucking this trend — or rather, kind of evening out the playing field. Not only is Rachel the oldest Bachelorette ever, but she is also older than the majority of her contestants, something that is pretty unheard of in Bachelor Nation.

USA Today reported that Rachel, who is 32 now, said that ABC actually cast contestants who are older than the average for her season. Yet only six out of 31 are her age or older, with exactly three men being older than her. The remaining 25 are younger than her. While both Bachelors and Bachelorettes typically have contestants who are younger and older than them, Rachel's age spread looks more like a Bachelor's. If that's not a convoluted step toward gender equality, then I don't know what is!

Rachel is also changing things up based on the average of her contestants' ages. For example, Ben Higgins is tied for the title of youngest Bachelor with Jesse Palmer, since they were both 26. Because of that, it made sense that Ben's female contestants were among the youngest in the show's history, at an average age of 25.07. (Season 3's Andrew Firestone, who was 27 at the time, still holds the record for youngest average age of contestants, at 24.64.) That's all well and good that since Ben was 26, his contestants' ages reflected that and skewed younger. But then, take a look at JoJo, who is also tied for youngest Bachelorette. JoJo, who was in Ben's final two, was 25 when she was Bachelorette, and not a single one of her contestants was younger than her — the average age of her contestants was 28.42.

Huffington Post reported in April 2015 that the average age of Bachelors was 31 and the average age of the female contestants was 26. For Bachelorettes, the average age was 27 and the average age of the male contestants was 29. Keeping in mind that many seasons have occurred since this data was reported, there is still a pretty significant trend that the women are always younger than the men — regardless if it's a season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. And while the Bachelors have all been older than their contestants' average age, it's pretty much the opposite for Bachelorettes. That is, until Rachel. While she's 32, the average age of her 31 contestants is 29.74 — an age comparison that's pretty unheard of in Bachelorette land when contestants are usually much older than the leading lady.

Yet before you feel too triumphant, the ages of the contestants are still unequal when it comes to men and women on the reality dating franchise — even with Rachel's season. While the 36-year-old Nick had three female contestants who were 30 or older, Rachel's group has 17 men who are 30 or older. That leaves 14 mean who are younger than 30, but still, these numbers still fall in a pattern of older contestants for a season of The Bachelorette versus a season of The Bachelor.

While "age is just a number," I am not naive enough to think that it doesn't play a factor — particularly since the goal of the franchise is to have people end up married. (If the final rose wasn't almost always accompanied by a proposal, the contestants' ages would matter significantly less to me.) I have a slight bias when it comes to age and marriage, since as a 31-year-old woman who is about to get married, I can say that I was not emotionally mature enough to walk down the aisle before now.

But I recognize that just because I tend to think people should be older when they get married because of my personal experience, that this is not a hard and fast rule. Some men and women can be ready for marriage in their early 20s, others in their late 30s. And some people don't even fall on the spectrum of ages that The Bachelor is willing to consider. (Because let's be real, even the "old" contestants on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette aren't that old.)

My point is that with the "women should be younger" than their partner stereotype comes the idea that women are more mature — and thus inherently more ready for marriage — than men. On the flip side, the assumption goes that younger men are particularly immature and not as ready for marriage. But as I can personally attest, that's just a sweeping generalization, and age and maturity do not always directly correlate. After all, one of Rachel's 31-year-old contestants' professions is "tickle monster," which I'm going to go out on a limb and say is a far less mature-sounding job than prosecuting attorney, which is what one of her 28-year-old contestants does for a living.

That's not to say that some contestants on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette don't live up to these generalizations, but gender stereotypes based on age shouldn't be the norm when it comes to casting these shows. Fortunately, maybe things are finally shifting. With Rachel Lindsay's season of The Bachelorette, the franchise is not only becoming more racially diverse, but it is also diversifying the age differences between the men and women. And while the big headline should absolutely be that Rachel is making The Bachelorette more inclusive racially, I can't help but love this season even more for also showing that women over 30 are still just as worthy of affection from men of any age.