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What Is the Difference Between Blue and White Collar?

Some blue collar jobs, including CNC programming, require a high level of knowledge and a specific skill set.
Some white collar workers have hourly jobs in large offices.
Construction laborers are considered blue collar workers.
Manual labor is usually the focus of blue collar jobs.
White collar workers make yearly salaries.
Many people find that blue collar workers are better able to leave their work at work, and not worry about the job during off hours.
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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 12 December 2014
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There are a number of differences between blue and white collar jobs, though they are often grouped based on the sort of work that is done and the type of education or training that is required. Blue collar jobs tend to involve manual labor, and white collar work is often performed in an office environment. Another distinction that is sometimes made is the prevalence of hourly wages in blue collar jobs, contrasted with the salaried positions of white collar workers. White collar jobs often require a higher level of education, while blue collar workers may need vocational or on the job training. Many jobs do not fit well into the blue collar and white collar categories, especially where the service sector is concerned.

The terms blue and white collar refer to the colors of shirts that have been commonly worn by different types of workers. Manual laborers traditionally wear darker clothing that is also sturdier, as it may become soiled or damaged throughout the course of their work. Professionals have often worn white collared shirts, which are better suited to an office environment than manual labor. Though not everyone who works in these types of jobs actually conforms to this specific dress code, the terms can still be used to identify different types of workers.

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Blue collar work is typically defined as requiring manual labor, though this refers to a wide variety of different jobs and skill levels. Unskilled factory work and highly skilled vocations, such as carpentry, are all typically seen as blue collar. White collar jobs can include anything from low paid office workers to highly educated doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.

Education has traditionally been one of the main differences between blue and white collar workers. Blue collar jobs often require a high school education, a two year vocational program, or an apprenticeship. Many white collar jobs, especially professionals such as doctors and lawyers, require extensive undergraduate and graduate school educations. This is not always the case, and many white collar office workers have no college education. College graduates can also choose to work in positions that require manual labor, though these jobs rarely require a four year degree.

Some jobs involve the performance of many different functions, which may include both manual labor and tasks more commonly associated with office work. The terms blue and white collar do not fit well with these sorts of jobs. This is particularly true with service sector jobs, which may require a degree, though that is not always the case.

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NathanG
Post 7

@everetra - That’s a good point. It’s also useful to note that some people make a blue collar to white collar transition over the course of their careers. These would be CEOs who start at the bottom, doing some menial jobs, and then working their way up.

One such example is Sidney Weinberg, who used to be CEO at Goldman Sachs. Do you know how he got his start with the company? He worked as a janitor’s assistant, and over many years moved up into the office environment and then up the corporate ladder.

This is a real rags to riches success story. The sad thing however is that this kind of story becomes less common as people don’t stay with companies as long as they used to, whether voluntarily or not. As a result climbing the corporate ladder is not as easy as it once was, but it does happen.

everetra
Post 6

I am a white collar professional, but I personally believe that American industry and ingenuity has been fueled by blue collar labor for most of our history. Think of farms, factories, ranches, mining companies, metal fabrication and construction, to name just a few.

No one should ever take a dim view of blue collar labor; it’s a rich part of our tapestry. At the same time, white collar workers have been a part of our history too.

When you think of the framers of the Constitution, most of these men were lawyers by profession. Where would America be without their contribution? So you see, the blue collar vs white collar distinction, while important for analysis, means nothing in my opinion. They are both needed and both important.

tigers88
Post 5

My dad has always walked the line between blue collar and white collar. He owned his own small business that made custom commercial cabinetry. They operated out of an old factory building and he had about 11 employees.

The company was very successful and my dad made a nice living for our family from it. It was definitely above what you would call blue collar wages. But he went to work everyday in jeans and a t-shirt. He came home sweaty and bleeding. he often did the worst jobs like sweeping up and emptying the dumpsters.

So my dad looked and acted like a blue collar worker but had the compensation and responsibility of a white collar worker. Just goes to show that these distinctions are not as hard and fast as people think.

stl156
Post 4

@jcraig - Exactly. Nurses are the other job that for the longest time only women did. I have a male friend who is a nurse, though, and he is very successful at his job, and makes a lot of money doing it.

Now that I say that, though, I wonder whether nursing would fit into the white collar or blue collar definition. I guess since the article talks about doctors, that nurses would probably be more likely to be characterized as white collar, but that is not to say they don't do any manual labor. Most nurses also only have to have a 2 year degree.

I like that the article also mentions that service sectors are hard to characterize. I work as a newspaper reporter, and it is hard for me to even decide where I would fit. Some days I work in front of a computer, but some days I'm driving around trying to track people down for interviews.

jcraig
Post 3

@JimmyT - Good point. It is just an intrinsic part of how society works that some people will naturally have jobs that are less desired or revered as other jobs, but that doesn't make them less important. Everyone needs a doctor at some point in their life, but every doctor needs a mechanic or a carpenter, too.

Besides white collar and blue collar, pink collar is a term that I have heard used before, as well. I am pretty sure that refers to jobs that have historically been held by women. I think the classic examples are flight attendants and secretaries. That line may be blurred even more than the difference between white and blue collar.

There are plenty of men who have the personality and skills to be a secretary, and do it better than many women. On the same token, there are plenty of women who can be successful entrepreneurs or be the CEO of multi-million dollar corporations and do it better than a man.

JimmyT
Post 2

@cardsfan27 - I think I could see your argument about the sides having a little resentment toward each other. I have seen plenty of ads and posts on the internet showing how white collar workers are the downfall of society or how blue collar workers are greedy and want to make unions to drive up costs. It is at the point where the terms are nothing more than political now.

Every politician always tries to rally supporters by saying that they are going to create more blue collar jobs and that they are going to clean up white collar corruption. Just as the article discusses, it is difficult to even draw the line between blue collar and white collar.

That is not to mention that whether the two groups like each other or not, both of them are equally important to society, and we couldn't function without everyone together.

cardsfan27
Post 1

I have always hated the comparison of white collar vs blue collar workers. Like the article even says, there is tons of overlap between job functions, education, and salary.

I know three or four people have done what many would consider blue collar jobs like working in a factory or driving deliver trucks, and they make a lot more on average than most of the clerical positions like secretaries and people who do data entry.

I can understand how the terms got started in the first place and how there used to be a pretty big distinction between the two different groups, but the line is so blurry now, I don't think it is fair to keep using it. I might even argue that it has gotten to the point where each side uses the opposite term as kind of a derogatory statement, even.

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