Amanda Benjamin, of Glasgow University, says that pupils consider the "McJob" to be on a par with retail work.
She observed careers education classes at four high schools in Vancouver, British Columbia, talking to teachers and pupils about their job prospects.
Several inner-city teachers used the prospect of a job at a fast-food outlet as an indication of the future for pupils if they did not progress to university. But pupils were less cynical.
Many felt that spending their spare time asking "Would you like fries with that?" was a useful career move. One inner-city teenager said: "I guess a job would be, you know, McDonald's for a year and then Radio Shack (an electronics equipment retail chain) for a year."
In all four schools - two inner-city and two with a more middle-class intake - teachers presented university education as the key to better paid jobs with longer-term prospects. But middle-class pupils also held a longer-term view of minimum-wage work. Many held part-time jobs at supermarkets, which they believed could lead to other opportunities.
One middle-class teenager said: "I might have a career in retail, where I'd work at Safeway and then move to Home Depot DIY store and then later on in my career I'd get promoted to a manager at the Bay clothes store or something."
But, while they saw burger frying and shelf-stacking as useful starting points for a career in retail, few pupils saw these jobs as long-term careers in themselves. The "McJob," one said, is not something that will affect you, that will change you. Another added: "There's nothing wrong with working at Safeway, but most people plan to go on to something else."