The Bachelor (senior producer: Lindsay Liles) is no stranger to drama and mystery surrounding a season, and the show loves to keep audiences guessing. This year, one of the series' drama-inducing tactics was to leave out the age of one of the contenders for Arie's heart, Bekah. Not ones to back down from a challenge, internet sleuths quickly got to work, and discovered that Bekah is 22 years old on The Bachelor. (She said as much during the press screener of the preview, though it was cut from broadcast). And, while Bekah is absolutely old enough to make her own decisions about who she dates and how, it's worth noting that the age difference between Bekah and Arie highlights a major double standard on the show.
To start, though it might be hard to believe, there has actually been a younger Bachelor contestant before. Cassandra Ferguson, from Juan Pablo's season, was only 21 when filming began, and turned 22 while on the show. Though she was plenty mature, as she was a single mother while vying for Juan Pablo's heart, Cassandra's age sparked controversy: How young is too young to be on The Bachelor? (Technically 21 is the minimum age requirement to apply). But, you can't just examine Bekah's age in a vacuum; it's just as important to look at that of her suitor, and 22-year-old Bekah will be dating Arie, who is 36.
It's also not only fans who are wondering how age will factor into Arie's decisions. A source told Us Weekly that, "It’s the younger women versus the older women," this season, and judging by the previews for the rest of the season, age will definitely be a major source of some of the drama that goes on between the women in the house. And, the average age of contestants this season is pretty young, especially considering that Arie is 36.
Unfortunately, this age disparity is the rule, not the exception when it comes to this show. Alice Zhao of HuffPost crunched the numbers in 2015 and found that, on average, Bachelor contestants are younger than Bachelorette contestants. Zhao's analysis found that while the average age of female contestants on The Bachelor is 26, the average age of men on The Bachelorette is 29. And there is even an age disparity between the Bachelors and Bachelorettes themselves, as the average age of the Bachelor is 31, while the average age of the Bachelorette is 27. (Of course, there have been a few seasons since those numbers came out — including one with 32-year-old Bachelorette Rachel — but those averages are generally consistent.)
Of course, it shouldn't really matter how old anyone on the show is, as long as they are all consenting adults. But when you examine the gender disparities between those participating, it reveals that The Bachelor franchise is playing into the age-old sexist notion that while older men can still be attractive (hello the term "silver fox") that women's looks only decrease with age (so not true, BTW). So while the women on The Bachelor are excited by Arie's gray hair and his maturity, few of these contestants, meant to be desirable to said silver fox, are actually close to his own age. It's totally fine for an older man to date a younger woman, or an older woman to date a younger man. But when men on The Bachelor are consistently presented with women significantly younger than them, it doesn't look good.
The double-standard becomes even more clear when you look at times that the Bachelorette has dated a younger man. On Rachel's season, men in the house seemed to think that at 25, Dean was too young for their Bachelorette. Yet, though there was a significant age difference between the 32-year-old attorney and Dean, Zhao's work in HuffPost reveals that the average age of female contestants on The Bachelor is 26, and they are vying for a man whose average age is 31: a five year age difference that is very close to the seven year gap between Rachel and Dean.
But, though people might be concerned about the 14-year difference between Arie and Bekah, there has been considerably less noise about the 10-year age gap between Arie and 26-year-old Jacqueline, or the 13-year one between him and 23-year-old Maquel. So a woman dating a man seven years younger is newsworthy, but a man vying for multiple women 10 years his junior is standard fare for this series.
If the age difference between Bekah and Arie is something that might actually affect their relationship, they should discuss it. Until then, fans will just have to call out the age double-standard between shows where they see it, and leave judgement about personal age difference to the couple themselves.