Did you know that the opposition blue collar vs. white collar has been in wide use for many decades? In fact, the meaning of these two terms evolved over the years. For example, at one point, the words not only referred to different types of jobs but also different social classes.
Still, while most people know the meaning of “blue and white-collar work,” few know about the terms’ origin. So, today, I will discuss how, why, and when these two phrases came to be.
The Opposition: Blue Collar vs. White Collar — What Is the Difference?
Before I explain the story behind the blue and white-collar jobs, I will outline the meanings of each of these terms. By doing so, I will help you appreciate their origin even more.
Defining White-Collar Jobs
For the most part, white-collar work positions involve mental rather than physical labor. Often, the job is administrative, and it takes place in an office. Other times, the work can include management tasks.
Usually, white-collar professionals have a higher education degree in a particular field. Still, there are also exceptions to that rule. For instance, a position such as an insurance sales agent, for example, demands only a high school diploma.
What’s more, white-collar jobs are often high-paying. Plus, in most cases, workers are not paid by the hour. Instead, they receive a fixed payment.
Typically, white-collar professionals spend long hours behind a desk. Alas, over time, such a sedentary style of work can lead to health and weight problems.
Examples of white-collar jobs:
• HR managers
Defining Blue-Collar Jobs
In contrast to white-collar jobs, blue-collar work positions involve manual labor. Often, they are performed either outdoors or in an industrial environment, such as a factory.
In many cases, blue-collar professionals do unskilled work. So, most of them need either a high school diploma or a Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED).
Sometimes, however, workers from this job category can perform skilled labor. When that is the case, employers may ask their employees to get some extra training.
For instance, aside from a high school degree, pest control experts also need an EPA certification. What’s more, in some states, they must complete apprentice training.
As a general rule, even skilled blue-collar workers tend to make less than white-collar professionals. Also, they receive an hourly payment and do not have a fixed salary. Other times, people with blue-collar jobs get a payment upon completing a project.
As I mentioned, blue-collar labor is physical. Therefore, it often leads to injuries and health problems, such as strokes or heart disease.
Examples of blue-collar jobs:
• Truck drivers
Blue Collar vs. White Collar — Origins
The phrases “blue-collar” and “white-collar jobs” came to be during the first half of the 20th century. Although the two phrases have not been around for too long, tracing their origin can be tricky. For the most part, old records do not seem to agree on when the terms were first used. Still, the color symbolism behind them has always been the same.
The Story Behind the Term “White-Collar Job”
Few people agree on the exact origin of the phrase “white-collar job.” According to many dictionaries, its first known use was in 1911. In contrast, online etymology records state that the word appeared in 1909.
However, there is no doubt as to when “white collar” was used in an official publication for the first time. In 1910, the word came up in an article by the Norfolk (NE) Weekly News Journal. Since then, the use of the term has become so widespread that, today, there are over 2 billion search results for it online.
Initially, the phrase referred to the white dress shirts that office workers wore in the early 20th century. Later, during the 1960s and 1970s, office workers switched to colored shirts. Even then, however, the term “white-collar jobs” remained popular.
The Story Behind the Term “Blue-Collar Job”
The phrase “blue-collar workers” first appeared in 1924. Still, for a long time, it was only used in opposition to white-collar laborers. It was not until the 1930s that people started using the term separately to refer to manual workers.
When the word was coined, factory employees were not required to wear uniforms. Still, most of them liked to sport clothes in dark colors. They did that because they could not afford to wash their dirty shirts and pants every day.
Many companies were quick to notice the new “fashion trend” among their workers. Not long after that, they started providing laborers with blue uniforms that were harder to soil than clothes in bright colors. So, the phrase “blue-collar jobs” existed even before work uniforms turned blue.
Blue Collar vs. White Collar — When Colors Start to Blur
For many years, the opposition blue collar vs. white collar referred not only to a person’s line of work but also to their social status. Usually, people who had a blue-collar job belonged to the working class and had a low income. In comparison, white-collar professionals were better educated and received a higher salary.
Today, however, the two colors have started to blur and merge. For starters, a job like construction manager now combines blue and white-collar work. Plus, many blue-collar positions demand higher education qualifications. For example, you need at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering if you want to work as a mining engineer.
Also, some blue-collar laborers receive a higher payment than white-collar professionals. For instance, nuclear power reactor operators now make more money than accountants. Therefore, the divide between the two collar colors has finally started to close. And who knows, maybe there will come a time when it will disappear entirely.
As you can see, the opposition blue collar vs. white collar began in a time when the social class divide was at its peak. In the dawn of the 20th century, office workers were educated and well-paid, while manual laborers were poor and unskilled. Luckily, the gap between the two collar colors has now started to fill.
Hopefully, one day the only reminder of such social divisions will be phrases like “blue and white-collar jobs.”