The Difference Between White Collar and Blue Collar

If you’re one of the 90% of lucky Americans currently employed, then you can probably define your job as either white collar or blue collar.  You may not know where your job falls but you’ve probably heard the terms on the news more than anywhere else.  Even though the definitions are generally used to represent types of crimes, there’s actually a history that dates pretty far back as to why some jobs are considered white collar and others, blue collar.

White Collar

The term white-collar is often credited to novelist Upton Sinclair, who used the term to refer clerical, administrative work.  But, the term was used as early as 1911 and the Wall Street Journal used the term as early as 1923. ‘White collar’ is generally used to refer to work that doesn’t require strenuous physical labor. Sinclair’s version of the term refers to the dress code-required white collared shirts male office workers were required to wear during the 19th and 20th centuries. Typically, white-collar workers are paid a salary, rather than an hourly wage.

White collar crime was first coined by criminologist Edwin Sutherland, who defined it as “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.”  In common parlance, white-collar crime typically refers to non-violent crimes, such as bribery, money laundering, fraud, electronic theft, embezzlement, copyright infringement, identity theft, income tax evasion, and insider trading.  As a rule of thumb, the term generally refers to crimes only available to white-collar workers. That is, chances are that blue collar workers won’t have the opportunity to launder money across international borders.  That sort of infraction generally requires the involvement of high-level bank officials.

Five common white collar jobs are:

  1. Doctor
  2. Accountant
  3. CEO
  4. Lawyer
  5. IRS Auditor

Blue Collar

The term blue collar, conversely, refers to workers whose work requires manual labor.  Their work can be skilled or unskilled and can fall into any number of industries. Welders, road crews, factory assemblymen, construction workers, miners, loggers, and many other types of laborers are all considered blue collar. Blue collar workers are generally paid an hourly wage rather than a salary.  Most union ranks are filled with blue collar workers.  The term is said to be derived from the clothing typically worn by manual laborers. Blue collar labor typically requires durable clothes able to withstand reasonable wear and tear. At one point, a key feature of such clothing was a durable navy or light blue work shirt. (Think of the dark blue coveralls often worn by repairmen and mechanics.)

Blue-collar crimes generally refer to crimes against others or against others property like vandalism, burglary, home robbery, and shoplifting.  To get an idea what blue-collar crime usually refers to, think of the obvious crimes likely to prompt a police officer’s attention.

Five common blue collar jobs are:

  1. Carpenter
  2. Electrician
  3. Plumber
  4. Mechanic
  5. Welder

Both terms can also be used to describe areas, establishments, and clientele. A blue-collar neighborhood could refer to a community mostly inhabited by manual laborers, for example. A blue-collar bar refers to a place frequented by local wage-paid employees. A white-collar suburb might be filled with administrators, accountants, and so on.

Formerly, the assumption used to be that (legitimate) white-collar workers out earned (also legitimate) blue-collar ones. Though still largely true, that distinction seems to be changing as labor jobs become more and more technically demanding. Blue-collar jobs that require much training and skill can pay higher than some white-collar ones. Electricians, cable-line repairmen, and other highly technical, mentally exhausting blue-collar jobs can be highly compensated for.

Topics: Personal Finance

9 Responses to “The Difference Between White Collar and Blue Collar”

  1. J Ludlow

    Hourly and Salary pay refers to the same thing. The amount of money a worker, blue or white collar, earns for a stated period of time. What difference does it make if you make $10 an hour for a 40 hour week or you make $400 a week or $1,733 a month or $20,800 a year. All the same.

    The US Department of Labor does differentiate between exempt and non exempt workers which refers to the requirement for paying non exempt employees overtime.

    • Totaly off subject as far as the article goes… you are missing the point of hourly and salary. Yes it sounds the same, but if an hourly person makes such and such amount of money, they also recieve overtime. Salary employess make only the stated amount and nothing more. Just food for thought.

  2. Dallas Shackelford

    I’m currious as how you came up with #3 as “SAVING” you money?… Borrowing money and going into debt??

    So, you’re saying if you keep you credit score high, you’ll be able to buy CRAP you can’t afford..

    ahhh geezzeee…i’m married 43 year old with 3 kids and a millionaire. My wife and I have never made over 70K a year but yet, ALWAYS lived below our means and saved. NEVER buying ANYTHING on credit and save save save..

    Saving money is really really simple but not easy for most people. They want to buy as big of house as they can afford and nice car as they can “afford”, being on CREDIT….it just blows me away and I’m tire of people complaining and whining. I live in a 104K house but my wife and I have over 1Million in cash. My neighbor works construction and drives a 2008 Ford F-150….mine is a 1996 Inifinty with 209 miles on it…

    People just DON’T GET IT!

    • Hannah

      I totally agree with you. I was feeling bad for my friends who are out of work. They worry about money but constantly but buy stuff they don’t need and use credit. Most everybody is back home with their parents, too. Everyone is over thirty.
      They buy stuff they already have but can’t find because they have to much stuff. Why buy clothes unless you NEED them? I know nobody who needs clothes.
      And when did shopping become an activity for pleasure? (That’ll stop when everything is closed but Wal-Mart.)
      I have an income. But- I am on a buying moratorium to save space, save the planet, save the slave labor, and save the economy. The less junk you have, the better you feel. You also feel more secure knowing if you need some money, it will be there.

  3. I’ve been lurking at DR for some time and just wanted to shout out now that I’m up and running. On Monday I’ll have a link to your 2008 post on finding a second source of income at my site, and I’ll post the permalink when it’s live.

    Great work, thank you for everything. Did I miss a link to a trackback function so CheapBohemian can show a little more love for this site?

  4. There’s another level of worker: gold collar. These people collect personal skills and abilities and choose who they work for. They are more like contractors than employees. They negotiate for benefits and move along when conditions change or are no longer satisfactory. Examples include: computer security specialists and physical therapists.

  5. LLwills

    This was an informative read about the different types of workers. As far as today’s article on eight ways to save money, I think that one of the best ways to save money is maintaining one’s health. Exercise and be your best health care advocate. You will save tons in prescription cost alone.

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