What is Blue Collar and White Collar?
Blue-collar jobs involve manual labor, while white-collar roles are typically professional or administrative office jobs.
🤔 Understanding blue collar and white collar jobs
The terms “blue collar” and “white collar” first appeared in the early 20th century to describe workers based on the color of the shirts they wore. Blue-collar jobs are those that involve manual labor, like construction or assembly line workers. They often have lower earning potential and fewer education requirements, though that’s not always the case. White-collar roles are traditionally desk jobs, like attorneys or secretaries. Highly educated office workers fall into the category of white collar, but so do less-educated and lower-paid employees that also work in offices.
Suppose that two Stephen and Roger work for the same construction company. Stephen is a construction worker. He reports to work sites, runs heavy equipment, and performs other manual labor. Roger works in the office of the construction company as an executive. He wears professional clothing and sits at a desk all day. Although they work for the same company, Stephen is a blue-collar worker, while Roger is a white-collar worker. There may also be differences in their education and income levels.
Blue collar vs. white collar is like the difference between cash and credit…
Cash and credit cards can each be useful in different situations, and both are vital to the economy. Similarly, blue- and white-collar workers perform different types of jobs, but both are necessary to keep the economy going.
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What is blue collar and white collar?
“Blue collar” and “white collar” are terms people use to describe different types of workers in the economy. Blue-collar jobs usually involve manual labor. Examples include factory workers, welders, construction workers, and truck drivers. White-collar employees usually work in offices. These include attorneys, accountants, architects, and secretaries.
The terms derive from the clothing these types of employees historically wore. Workers doing manual labor often wore blue uniforms, while those in offices donned white dress shirts.
There is often a pay gap between blue-collar and white-collar jobs. Historically, white-collar jobs have required higher levels of education and paid more than blue-collar ones. Few blue-collar jobs demand advanced degrees, but professionals such as lawyers and doctors have to go through many years of schooling and exams. These distinctions aren’t set in stone: Plenty of blue-collar jobs pay more than some white-collar jobs.
Today, the difference between blue-collar and white-collar jobs is in some ways disappearing. Many traditional roles persist, such as construction jobs for blue-collar workers and attorneys and accountants in white-collar roles. But advancing technology has created new jobs in industries like manufacturing and construction that require more education and technical skills. At the same time, job security and compensation in some white-collar jobs is eroding.
What is the history of worker designation by collar?
The phrases “blue collar” and “white collar” arose as a literal description of the color of workers’ collars in particular jobs. Those doing manual labor tended to wear blue uniforms, while those in white-collar jobs wore white dress shirts.
The term emerged in the US in the early 20th century. “White collar” appeared in 1910, and “blue collar” became prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s. “Blue collar” sometimes came with negative connotations, since these jobs traditionally paid less and required less education (usually just a high school diploma).
The makeup of blue- and white-collar jobs has changed significantly over the years. In the 1950s, most blue-collar jobs were in manufacturing. At the time, manufacturing made up nearly one-third of all jobs in the US. That share fell to 17 percent over the next 50 years. Other blue-collar jobs, such as those in construction and transportation, became more prevalent. White-collar jobs also increased significantly during that time, partly as a result of advances in technology.
The wages and level of education required for the two types of jobs look different today than they did half a century ago. Far more people are earning bachelor’s degrees, and they often expect to earn higher wages. Although most people with college degrees end up in white-collar jobs, there are also highly skilled blue-collar jobs that pay higher salaries than many white-collar positions.
What is a blue-collar worker?
Blue-collar workers are those who work in skilled or unskilled manual labor jobs. These jobs often require less education than white-collar jobs, though a growing number of employers are demanding that blue-collar workers have college degrees.
While the pay for blue-collar workers has historically been lower than that of their white-collar counterparts, that’s not always the case. Many blue-collar positions have become more skilled as technology advances, and some blue-collar workers now make far more than many white-collar employees.
The US is experiencing a shortage of some blue-collar workers. As more people opt to get a college degree, blue-collar jobs are becoming harder to fill.
Blue-collar workers are nearly always non-exempt employees, which means the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) applies to them. The FLSA sets rules for overtime pay and minimum wage. Some roles are exempt from these labor protections, but that's almost never the case for blue-collar workers. As a result, blue-collar workers make an hourly wage rather than a salary.
- Examples of blue-collar jobs include:
- Construction workers
- Truck drivers
- Warehouse workers
What is a white-collar worker?
A white-collar worker is one who works in a professional or administrative role in what people often refer to as a desk job. White-collar workers don’t usually perform physical labor. And unlike the work uniform a blue-collar worker might wear, white-collar workers are more often found in a suit and tie (though casual office attire has become more common). These days, white-collar workers include everyone in a knowledge-intensive job, regardless of where they do their work.
Because of the nature of their jobs, white-collar workers historically had a higher level of education than their blue-collar counterparts. Most white-collar jobs require at least a college degree, and many involve more advanced degrees or special certifications. The education gap between blue-collar and white-collar workers is slowly diminishing, as more people opt to get a college degree, regardless of the work they plan to do.
White-collar workers are more likely than blue-collar workers to be exempt employees, meaning provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (such as overtime pay and minimum-wage laws) don’t always apply to them. Many workers in executive, administrative, professional, and sales roles meet the standards to be an exempt employee. As a result, many white-collar workers make an annual salary instead of an hourly wage.
Examples of white-collar jobs include:
- Financial advisors
What are the other collar colors?
“Blue collar” and “white collar” are the terms people use most often to describe different types of jobs, but other collar colors exist as well:
- Pink collar: This term describes professions that women traditionally filled. Examples include teachers, secretaries, nurses, and housekeepers. Pink-collar jobs have historically come with lower pay and fewer opportunities for advancement. The term gained popularity in the 1980s and is not used often today.
- Gold collar: These jobs are a hybrid between blue-collar and white-collar jobs. They combine the technical skills and manual labor of blue-collar jobs with the knowledge and education white-collar jobs usually require. Examples might include technicians in manufacturing jobs that involve more IT skills than manual labor.
- Green collar: This term refers to workers whose jobs improve sustainability and the environment. Examples include environmental attorneys, architects, and engineers, as well as traditionally blue-collar workers that perform manual jobs in the clean energy field.
- New collar: IBM’s chief executive officer (CEO) coined the term “new collar” in 2016. These positions combine the technical skills often necessary for blue-collar jobs with soft skills, such as social intelligence, often associated with white-collar jobs. New collar may describe roles that involve working with artificial intelligence systems.
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