White Collar vs. Blue Collar: Here’s The Difference

In the past, the color of a worker’s shirt collar was traditionally used to determine a worker’s educational level, job responsibilities, and social class. However, with the fast-paced changing work environment and the rise of telecommuting, freelancing, and other remote work opportunities, the definition of white-collar and blue-collar jobs is also changing.   

The term White Collar and Blue Collar referred exclusively to salary levels or job roles in the past, but do these assumptions still hold true today? 

Could these terms still distinguish between workers of different classes or types? The following section explores in more detail White Collar vs. Blue Collar. Let’s get started-

What is a “White Collar” Worker?

The phrase “white collar worker” is believed to have been coined by sociologist and author Upton Sinclair in reference to the type of shirt that office workers tended to wear. The term was later popularized by American novelist and playwright William Lindsay Gresham in his 1946 book entitled Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

White collar workers are those who have professional jobs and typically have a college degrees. Their jobs are often performed in an office setting or other indoor locations. Jobs of this type expect the employee to be well-educated and intelligent, with good social skills. Manual labor may still be involved, but it’s less likely than in blue-collar work.

White-collar workers wear suits and white shirts to work, showing off their white collars beneath blazers. Blue-collar workers, on the other hand, wear overall blue collars that protect them from dirt while they perform manual labor.

What is a “Blue Collar” Worker?

Blue-collar workers are employed in manual labor jobs that require physical exertion. They typically have less education and are paid less than white-collar workers. However, blue-collar jobs can be more skilled than their white-collar counterparts.

Blue collar workers often have a high school diploma or equivalent, but their duties require specialized plumbing and electrical wiring skills. These individuals may also undergo training after being hired to learn the necessary technical skills.

A blue-collar worker is generally regarded as having less education, making less money, and belonging to a lower social class than a white-collar worker.

What Separates White and Blue Collar Workers?

White-collar workers are usually better educated with college degrees and are typically found in offices. Blue-collar workers have more hands-on experience and often work outside on jobs requiring physical labor. White-collar workers tend to have more job security and higher pay than blue-collar workers, but they enjoy more flexible schedules.

White-collar workers were viewed as having more responsibilities and playing a more significant role in the economy. In this way, white-collar workers belong to a higher, more educated social class and are entitled to higher pay. As an office setting focuses on mental attention and is safer for workers, it is considered a superior work setting.

However, these distinctions have blurred over the years and may no longer be as relevant as they once were in the 21st century. SpaceX, where physicists, engineers, and manufacturers work on the same factory floor, is an example of an integrated workspace where great innovation is being done. 

The organizational structure of these teams is horizontal. Traditionally blue-collar industries, such as manufacturing and agriculture, are now becoming more aware of the skill and mental effort required.

Here are a few areas where white vs. blue-collar are most evident. 

Work Setting

The work setting for white-collar workers is an office. In contrast, workers in blue-collar roles can work in various settings, including warehouses, construction sites, workshops, production lines, and outdoor spaces.

Despite the vast differences between white-collar and blue-collar jobs, white-collar and blue-collar employees can operate in distinctly different environments and perform two different types of jobs. Although the work setting may differ, the organization may not.

Roles and Responsibilities

Typically, white-collar jobs require skills only obtained with formal education. For example, a waitress at a restaurant can get on-the-job training for her blue-collar job, while an accountant requires formal education.

There is also a blurring of the distinction between types of responsibilities. While construction site foreman has blue-collar job, their responsibilities require leadership and managerial skills traditionally associated with white-collar jobs.

A blue-collar worker can be skilled or unskilled, waged or salaried. Traditionally, blue-collar jobs require fewer skills because more unskilled workers perform them. A useful distinction might be that blue-collar jobs do not specify skill levels or pay levels.

Salary and Benefits

Blue-collar jobs tend to pay less than white-collar jobs. However, there are exceptions. For example, a skilled machine operator (blue-collar) may earn more than a bank teller (white-collar).

There is often certain job security that goes along with a white-collar job. n annual salary based on a consistent 40-hour workweek is common in white-collar jobs. Additionally, many white-collar workers receive pensions and medical aid benefits. Blue-collar jobs commonly offer hourly wages and are assigned a certain number of weekly hours or shifts. It is common for blue-collar workers to receive fewer benefits from their employers, and a reduction in hours or shifts can lead to financial instability. Despite this, both professional categories can earn high salaries based on their experiences, skills, and positions. Therefore, in modern society, blue-collar workers are no longer associated with lower socioeconomic classes.

Examples of Jobs

The following is a list of general industries that hire more white-collar and blue-collar workers. It is important to remember that the same company can hire white-collar and blue-collar employees in any given sector. For instance, you will find blue-collar bricklayers on the site of a construction company. The same firm may have a white-collar human resources director who manages the employment contracts for blue-collar bricklayers.

White Collar Jobs

The entry requirements for white-collar industries often include at least an undergraduate degree. Here are some examples of industries with many white-collar jobs:

  • Accountant
  • Doctor
  • Financial analyst
  • Lawyer
  • Librarian
  • Marketing Manager
  • Nurse * Pharmacist * Salesperson
  • Technological innovation
  • Software development
  • Consulting
  • Engineering

Blue Collar Jobs

Blue-collar jobs can be dangerous, dirty, or both. Blue collar workers are typically paid on an hourly basis, and they often do not need to have any formal education or training. They are doing physical labor and often working outside in all kinds of weather. Here are a few examples of industries with a lot of blue-collar jobs:

  • Construction worker
  • Factory worker
  • Fisherman/fisherwoman (or commercial fisherman/fisherwoman)
  • Retail
  • Manufacturing
  • Foodservice
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Landscaping
  • Municipal services
  • Cleaning and pest control
  • Repair and maintenance
  • Agriculture


White-collar and blue-collar jobs are becoming increasingly blurred in the current economy. The work settings, job responsibilities, and salaries of different types of workers are described as white vs. blue collar. People who work freelance jobs or participate in the gig economy are also not accurately classified by these terms. It may be more beneficial to describe employees based on a horizontal organizational structure in the 21st century.

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