What Defines a Third-World Country?

In comparison to the rest of the world, a Third World country is defined by a population with low and intermediate incomes and other socio-economic indices such as high poverty rates, economic instability, and a lack of vital human resources.

How did the term come about, does it still mean the same as when it was coined, and how can these nations be helped?

Here is some background that should go some way to explaining what defines a third-world country.

History of the Term “Third-World Country.”

During the Cold War, the term “Third World countries” was coined; countries that were not aligned with the Communist Bloc or NATO were neutral. 

During the Cold War, the United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and Western European nations and allies were categorized as First World countries. 

Second World countries included China, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and their allies. 

Third World countries typically had colonial pasts in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania.

What a Third-World Country Means Today

The “three worlds” terminology has altered drastically since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Today, the term “third world” refers to a less developed country than others and confronts economic, social, political, environmental, and other challenges.

Nations like Finland, Sweden, Ireland, and Switzerland were formerly classified as Third World countries as they didn’t align with the Communist Bloc or NATO. However, these countries would not be classified as Third World countries by today’s definition.

Defining a Third-World Country

Given that the term “third world” is outdated and derogatory, Least Developed Countries, or LDCs, are based on United Nations data and Human Development Index ratings. They are defined as countries with poor socio-economic development indicators made up of a combination of: 

  • Gross national income
  • Human assets 
    • nutrition, 
    • life expectancy, 
    • secondary school education, 
    • adult literacy
  • Economic vulnerability 
    • population size, 
    • remoteness, 
    • merchandise export concentration, 
    • agriculture, 
    • Exports
    • natural disaster preparedness

Every few years, the list of LDC’s is updated.

How can a Third-World Country be Helped?

Given the political intricacies involved, it isn’t easy to pull a nation out of its own development level. Only by investing in the people instead of agriculture or structural infrastructure will there be a way out. 

Education, attitude, and understanding are all crucial key areas in which LDC’s need to develop. Backed by this education, change will follow in the future. This explains why the LDC list is re-evaluated every few years; it allows countries to reap the benefits of their efforts, but it takes a great time for this to happen.  

Haiti, a “third-world country” on the LDC list, is an excellent illustration and the driving force behind the non-profit Haiti children initiative. Investing time, money, and resources in the next generation’s education in the hopes of a better, more stable country.

With better education comes a brighter future with safeguards such as a more robust natural disaster preparedness, better healthcare provision, and a stronger and fairer political system.

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