What is a 'White Collar'

A white collar worker is known for earning high average salaries and not performing manual labor at their jobs. White collar workers historically have been the "shirt and tie" set, defined by office jobs and not "getting their hands dirty" (or their white collar dress shirts).

This class of worker stands in contrast to blue collar workers, who traditionally wore blue shirts and worked in plants, mills and factories.

BREAKING DOWN 'White Collar'

White collar work used to mean a high level of education and the assumption of securing a cushy job with perks. That distinction today is blurred by the fact that white collar employment has become the dominant working class in the U.S. and other advanced nations. Many jobs that require a shirt and tie are actually low-paying and high stress, especially in the modern service and technology sectors.

There are also white collar workers' unions, though, historically, union membership had been a distinction of blue collar workers.

Expectations of White Collar Jobs

White collar positions are often expected to offer opportunities to advance to more significant roles as management or executives. A white collar role is likewise expected to generate higher paying salaries with the potential to continue to rapidly scale up their income with further advancement. These jobs typically are based in an office; however, some industries make still require a presence in the field. This is especially true for professionals who regularly meet with clients and customers, or travel to conferences and meetings.

Attorneys, accountants, architects, bankers, real estate agents, business consultants, and brokers are often described as white collar positions. Though the actual work performed typically is not menial, white collar roles can require the professional to commit to extensive hours during the work week, as well as on weekends. White collar professionals may be expected to be on call even during vacation times and outside of normal business hours. At senior levels, they may be part of a firm's upper management and hierarchy.

White collar workers are often expected to develop specialized skills over time, making them increasingly valuable intellectual assets for the growth of the company. For example, an accountant may be have to keep abreast of all regulatory changes that could affect how their clients or company reports income. An attorney will need to keep themselves apprised of recent rulings and changes in case law that affect their area of expertise. Real estate agents will need to keep track of fluctuations in real estate prices and the underlying influences that drive such trends.

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