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Most people have heard the terms "white-collar jobs" or "blue-collar jobs" at some point. However, in today's world, the line between the two types of positions has become increasingly blurry. Find out exactly what white-collar and blue-collar jobs are and what the difference is between the two.

What Are White-Collar Jobs?

A white-collar job typically entails a job that involves information-based work, or, in more colloquial terms, a "desk job." In the past, office workers were almost always required to wear white, collared shirts. Most of the time, physical labor isn't part of any white-collar job. Many white-collar professionals work in an office, whether at home or in an actual place of work.

While white-collar workers tend to make more money than blue-collar workers, this isn't always the case. In fact, when the term was first coined, it was intended to refer to more entry-level administrative positions. However, the definition of white-collar work has since expanded to include any position that primarily involves information-based work free of manual labor.

The term was said to originate from famous American writer Upton Sinclair, who tied the term to administrative work. However, references to the term had appeared in a variety of different places a few decades before Sinclair first made mention of it.

What Are Blue-Collar Jobs?

A blue-collar job typically refers to types of work that involve manual labor or skilled labor. People who perform blue-collar jobs are usually from the working class. Some people can find this term offensive in the modern workplace.

White-collar jobs are known for being well-salaried, but many blue-collar jobs can also pay quite well. This is particularly true for blue-collar positions that require a high level of skill in a particular area, or those entail a large portion of managerial or project management work. In fact, some blue collar jobs require workers to have a college degree. Many blue-collar jobs pay hourly or per project, but some are salaried.

The term "blue-collar job" emerged from the type of clothing that was typically worn by workers in these positions. Many blue-collar workers wear denim for its durability during arduous tasks and to hide stains from dirt and other debris that is usually associated with manual labor.

White Collar vs. Blue Collar: Key Differences

The lines between white-collar jobs and blue-collar jobs has been blurring as time goes on and the economy changes. However, there are still some key differences between these two types of positions. Find out what sets them apart from each other.

Job Requirements

Generally speaking, white-collar jobs are more administrative in nature. They typically involve information-based work, meaning that they are usually working at a desk or on a computer. Sometimes a white-collar job may also involve managerial duties, whether it be managing people or managing projects.

In contrast, blue-collar jobs involve performing physical labor. These can be skilled or unskilled types of labor, depending on the exact nature of the job. Many blue-collar works spend the majority of their time outdoors or in industrial environments, like factories.

Education Level

White-collar jobs often have higher educational requirements than blue collar jobs. Because many of these positions are knowledge-oriented and involve the management or interpretation of specialized information, a bachelor's degree or higher is useful. Expertise in a particular area is often essential for these positions.

Because blue-collar jobs involve physical labor, these positions often don't require higher education and will simply ask for workers to have a high school diploma. In fact, many blue-collar workers simply learn their work from senior co-workers. However, this norm has shifted in recent years. Some skilled blue-collar work now requires a college degree or, at a minimum, a formal apprenticeship.

Payment Rates and Terms

White-collar jobs typically offer salary pay based on overall performance in the position. Usually, white-collar workers are required to work a minimum number of hours to be paid. However, they can work beyond those hours without earning additional wages. In contrast, blue-collar jobs are often wage-based, meaning that the workers are compensated based on the number of hours worked. Some blue-collar jobs reimbursement models are based on project completion.

White-collar jobs have a reputation for being higher-paying than blue-collar jobs. However, a skilled blue-collar worker can often make more in wages than a mid-level white-collar job. This can depend on a variety of factors, including the skill level required to perform the work, each worker's level of experience, and how many hours the blue-collar worker puts in.

Health Challenges

All kinds of occupations can present long-term health challenges for workers.

For blue-collar jobs, the primary health concern has always been physical wear and tear. Unsurprisingly, the high level of physical exertion required can take a toll on the bodies of workers. It also can make it challenging for blue-collar workers to continue in their positions as they age. The exact health problems vary depending on the nature of the profession, but they often manifest in the form of musculoskeletal problems. Recent studies suggest that certain types of blue-collar workers may also be more susceptible to heart disease and stroke.

White-collar jobs are becoming more prolific than ever before. Because of this, the health challenges associated with white-collar work are only beginning to be studied by scientists and the field of medicine as a whole. However, preliminary studies have found that the excessive amount of sedentary activity required of white-collar workers can increase their risk of suffering from obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

Common White-Collar Jobs

Though the term "white-collar worker" may allude to the suits and ties required of administrative workers when the phrase was first coined, white-collar jobs today can come in many forms. Here are some of the most common types of white-collar jobs in the U.S., according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management:

  • Information Technology Manager
  • Clerk or assistant
  • Administrator
  • Criminal investigator
  • General attorney
  • Human resource manager
  • Engineer

Common Blue-Collar Jobs

Blue-collar jobs have been around since "occupations" was a concept, but they take on many different forms today, ranging from unskilled to skilled. Here are some of the most common types of blue-collar jobs, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management:

  • Custodian
  • Mechanic
  • Food service worker
  • Car, truck, or bus driver
  • Electrician
  • Painter
  • Welder

Key Takeaways

  • Blue-collar workers typically perform manual labor, while white-collar workers typically perform administrative work
  • Blue-collar workers are often paid lower wages based on hours worked or projects completed. White-collar workers are usually paid salaries based on their overall performance in the position.
  • In the past, blue-collar workers were less educated than white collar workers. However, today, many skilled blue-collar workers may benefit from formal education.
  • The lines between the two fields are often blurry in today's economy, meaning that the definition of blue- and white-collar jobs are often generalizations rather than hard-and-fast rules.