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Blue collar vs. white collar worker

Blue collar workers perform manual labor, often in non-office settings like construction sites or production lines. Their name originates from the durable blue fabrics they traditionally wore. White collar workers, in contrast, work in offices and typically wear white, collared shirts. Their roles are more administrative or managerial.

Nikoletta Bika
Nikoletta Bika

Nikoletta holds an MSc in HR management and has written extensively about all things HR and recruiting.

If you’re wondering about the difference between blue collar vs. white collar workers, take a look at their… clothes. Workers of any profession can be classified in a specific collar type job, including white, blue, pink, black, etc. Each color usually has a symbolic meaning behind it. For example, pink collar workers are those in professions that used to be popular among women (e.g. nurses).

So what is the difference between blue collar and white collar? This refers to the type of labor each worker performs. Let’s take a look at the respective definitions:


Blue collar meaning

Blue collar workers are those who perform manual labor. The name comes from the early 20th century when these workers wore resistant fabrics of darker colors (e.g. blue denim or blue uniforms). They preferred these clothes because they usually got them dirty at work and often couldn’t afford to wash them frequently because of low wages.

See our blue collar definition for examples of blue collar jobs.

White collar meaning

White collar workers are those who work in an office. The name comes from older times, too, when office workers usually wore white, collared shirts at work (and some of them still do). The writer Upton Sinclair was the one who coined this term. White collar jobs examples include bank employees, people in finance jobs, or administrative assistants.

So, what is the difference between white collar and blue collar?

Based on their definitions, there are several differences between these two types of workers:

  • Work setting. The most obvious one is that a white collar worker works at an office, while blue collar workers can work in various non-office settings, such as construction sites, production lines, on the road etc.
  • Type of labor. While white collar workers may often use their hands to do their job (e.g. data entry clerk), they most often don’t rely on their physical abilities like blue collar workers do. Manual labor is a characteristic of blue collar jobs.
  • Pay. White collar jobs tend to pay better than blue collar jobs. But, there are exceptions – for example, a skilled machine operator might make more money than a bank teller.
  • Education. Many white collar jobs require degrees, so workers in these professions are usually more educated than blue collar workers.
  • Legal regulations. For example, in the U.S., white collar workers are exempt from FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act), while most blue collar workers aren’t.
If you liked this blue collar vs white collar worker definition, check out the rest of our HR terms.

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