Laura Berlinsky-Schine
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Pink-collar. Grey-collar. Gold-collar. No-collar.

Today, there are many terms to describe various types of workers. Once upon a time, though, there were just the originals: white-collar and blue-collar jobs. But what does a white-collar job mean? Which jobs are actually considered white-collar? And how did the term come to be?

White-collar vs. blue collar

What is the difference between white-collar job and blue-collar job? White-collar typically refers to someone who works in an office setting or other professional context. While there’s no strict definition for the colloquial term, these professions typically require a higher level of education than blue-collar jobs do. Blue-collar jobs, meanwhile, traditionally involve manual labor and sometimes skilled work. Examples include technicians and equipment operators.

Often (but not always), white-collar jobs are higher-paid than blue-collar jobs, although there are many contexts in which this is not the case. Blue-collar jobs are also paid hourly in many cases, while white-collar positions tend to be salaried.

History of the term.

The emblematic white, turned-down collar is the main origin of the term. Upton Sinclair is may have been one of the first to use the term to apply it to administrative, office work

In Slate, Forrest Wickman writes that the term emerged as a designation to differentiate types of laborers in the 1910s and 1920s, although this type of collar had been around since the previous century, with the Nebraska Weekly News-Journal describing this type of worker as someone who “had the good sense to leave a cheap, white-collar job, deny himself fleeting luxuries, take up the cross, and follow—the plow.”

A local newspaper in Alden, Iowa, may have been the first to differentiate blue-collar jobs, using the term to describe trades. The term then gained popularity in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly following World War II.

Examples of typical white-collar jobs.

So, what jobs are white-collar? Examples of traditional and more modern white-collar jobs include:

1. Business executive

Annual median salary: $104,980 (Bureau of Labor Statistics — BLS)

Business executives are high-ranking leaders at their organizations. They work with other leadership to set goals, objectives and policies that will serve the organization’s mission.

2. Market researcher

Annual median salary: $63,120 (BLS)

This is usually a consultancy position in which the market researcher gathers and reviews information to make recommendations about how to improve the marketing efforts of an organization and best position products and services.

3. Marketer, publicist and advertiser

Annual median salary: $134,290; $60,000; $132,620 (BLS)

Marketers, publicists and advertisers are all part of a team that promotes an organization’s products, services and general brand. The roles are different, but they often work in conjunction toward the same goal. While they don’t conduct direct sales, they contribute to the sales strategy.

4. Financial manager

Annual median salary: $127,990 (BLS)

Financial managers work with organizational leadership to create strategies and procedures that will help companies meet their financial objectives.

5. Physician

Annual median salary: $208,000 (BLS)

Working in a range of specialties, including internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, cardiology and many others, physicians are responsible for assessing and treating the health of patients, providing preventative care and treatments for illnesses and injuries.

6. Software developer

Annual median salary: $110,000 (BLS)

Also known as computer programmers or coders or software engineers, these professionals build and code technological programs and other products, such as apps, for organizations or individuals.

7. Cloud administrator

Annual median salary: $82,050 (BLS — network and computer systems administrators)

A cloud systems administrator sets up and maintains an organization’s cloud systems. The administrator will manage all cloud systems and associated efforts, procedures and operations as they relate to the goals and requirements of the business.

8. IT specialist

Annual median salary: $62,770 (BLS)

IT professionals are responsible for setting up and supporting technological systems, including software, hardware and networks. They also offer troubleshooting, solving technology-related problems for employees and organizations. 

9. Cybersecurity architect

Annual median salary: $98,350 (BLS — information security analysts)

This position is responsible for establishing requirements and policies, as well as directing all efforts related to, cybersecurity within an organization.

10. Dentist

Annual median salary: $156,240 (BLS)

Dentists help patients maintain their oral health, providing preventative carer and the treatment of diseases and injuries of the mouth and teeth. 

11. Accountant

Annual median salary: $70,500 (BLS)

Working with individuals or businesses, accounts deal with financial matters, ensuring records are maintained and payments are made on time. They may also prepare and file taxes.

12. Management consultant

Annual median salary: $83,610 (BLS)

Management consultants are outside specialists who work with organizations to help them meet their objectives and hone their business processes and procedures in service of their goals.

13. Lawyer

Annual median salary: $120,910 (BLS)

Specializing in a range of areas, including criminal, insurance, civil and other types of law, attorneys provide advice to and represent individuals and organizations in legal proceedings, as well as prepare related paperwork.

14. Architect

Annual median salary: $79,380 (BLS)

Architects create plans for and design new buildings and restorations of old buildings. They will be involved with projects from the early stages, making sure that they are not only aesthetically pleasing but structurally and functionally sound.

15. Real estate appraiser 

Annual median salary: $54,980 (BLS)

Used for mortgage lending, lease negotiations, insurance and tax assessments, development and more, a real estate appraiser estimates the value of properties based on the market value of similar buildings or establishments. 

16. Engineer

Annual median salary: $80,170 (BLS)

There are many types of engineers, including electrical, chemical, software, mechanical and industrial. Generally speaking, they use math and science principles to solve problems and build products or develop new processes and procedures.

17. Sales manager

Annual median salary: $124,220 (BLS)

A sales manager establishes and creates plans for achieving sales goals. They act as the leaders of the sales force for a given company, directing the efforts of representatives and working with marketing and other departments to maximize sales potential.

Many of these jobs require a bachelor’s degree, and some demand graduate degrees, too. However, increasingly, people are pursuing alternative paths to attain white-collar jobs. For example, there are many software developers without college degrees who have learned how to program through other means, such as coding bootcamps.

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