Photo Of McDonald's Advertising Wages By Age Sparks Debate

January 5, 2022

All other things being equal, should companies be allowed to pay different salaries depending on an employee's age?

Many of us would call this discrimination, and indeed, in some cases, it is.

A photo posted on Reddit led to a lively discussion about age and pay.

The drama began at a McDonald's in Indiana.

Unsplash | Erik Mclean

Photos posted to r/pics are usually pleasant and benign, but a user who goes by...uh, u/Smartyandfarty put up a pic that got everyone talking.

It wasn't the aesthetic value that was noteworthy, it was the messaging.

Here's the pic.

Reddit | Smartyandfarty

As you can see, this McDonald's pays different wages depending on the hiree's age. Younger teenagers will make $8 an hour, while those who are over the age of 18 will make $12 an hour — a full 50 percent more.

Is that even legal?

Unsplash | Clem Onojeghuo

In a word, yes.

Commenter u/StolenStrawberries pointed out that in the U.S. (this McDonald's is in Indiana), age-based discrimination laws only work one way: "It's only against the law to discriminate on age if the person is older, not if they're young."

It's more normal than you might think.

Unsplash | Joey Csunyo

Another poster notes that in Australia, this practice is commonplace.

According to some standards Down Under, younger employees make less money while older employees make more. This is a codified version of what the McDonald's in Indiana is doing.

Are adults that much better at making fast food?

While there's something to be said for experience, there's nothing to suggest that an older person would be faster or more efficient at putting a Big Mac together. Then again, that's likely not the rationale behind this pay disparity.

Most of us make more money the older we get.

Unsplash | Giorgio Trovato

While it's usually tied to promotions and job changes, it's generally true that people make more money as they get older.

McDonald's and other lower-paying jobs are likely trying to replicate this and incentivize people continuing to work there.

Older people typically have more expenses.

Unsplash | Artem Beliaikin

At 14 or 15, when you're still living with your parents, you probably don't have rent or other big expenses to deal with. But if you're in your 20s, those extra McDonald's bucks could really come in handy.

Is it really fair, though?

Unsplash | Shahbaz Ali

It's easy to see the rationale behind it, but it's also easy to envision scenarios where the pay difference could seem truly unfair. A 17-year-old at that McDonald's could have three years of experience, but still make less than a new hiree.

There's no perfect answer.

Unsplash | Towfiqu barbhuiya

It's hard to know how to handle this situation. Should older people be paid more simply because they're older? Should younger people be given a little more respect? Should age discrimination work both ways?

We're probably not going to solve the problem, but we'd love to hear your thoughts — so make sure to share them in the comments!