A Nation of Employees: The Rise of White-Collar Workers and the Perceived Crisis of Masculinity in the 1950s

  • Thomas Andrew Joyce James Madison University
Keywords: Masculinity, White-Collar, 1950s


Despite later generations’ depiction of the long 1950s as a stable period, this era was a time of rapid social upheaval for middle-class white males.  College educated, suburban living, corporate workers for the first time comprised a significant percentage of the labor population.  The new white-collar male came under significant scrutiny from public intellectuals (sociologists, historians, anthropologist, magazine editors and anyone with means to shape public opinion and an aura of authority), and corporate work became incompatible with older forms of masculinity.  The nineteenth-century ideal of the self-made entrepreneur, and independent farmer was no longer possible because hierarchical corporations emphasized group think and cooperative work.  Social commentators believed that the new white-collar work was meaningless and no longer built character.  Social commentators such as David Riesman, William H. Whyte Jr. and C. Wright Mills feared the loss of meaningful work created a passive male that lacked individuality and a conscious political outlook.  This prompted a perceived crisis of masculinity since the traditional notion of the self-made man ideal could no longer be fulfilled by the new white-collar worker.

Author Biography

Thomas Andrew Joyce, James Madison University
Thomas Andrew Joyce graduated in 2009 from Stetson University with a BA in history and American Studies and is currently completing an MA in history at James Madison University. His Master’s thesis focuses on body image and dieting among white-collar workers in the 1950s