Presently, there is a total of 195 countries in the world. One hundred ninety-three countries are member states of the United Nations, and two non-member observer states are the Holy See and the State of Palestine.
Whether in academic or education, sports, tourism, health care services, Internet speed, businesses, import and export, government, and economic status, there will always be nations’ ranking. We might even hear of the categorization “First World, and Third World but rarely heard about the Second World and Fourth World countries. What do these groupings mean?
The “three worlds” is a geopolitics model that arose in the mid-20th century to map various players in the Cold War from approximately 1945 to the 1990s. Despite the complex origins, historians credit it to Alfred Sauvy, a French demographer who coined the term “Third World” in an article entitled “Three Worlds, One Planet” in 1952.
In the original context, the United States and its capitalist allies, such as Western Europe, Australia, Canada, South Korea, and Japan, belong to the First World countries. The Second World is comprised of the communist Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. And the Third World included all the other countries that were not actively allied with either side in the Cold War. It comprised all the nations of Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia that were former European colonies and were often impoverished.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the “three worlds” terminology has changed somewhat. Later on, the phrase “Third World” became a description of a class of economically inferior nations from the developed four-part segmentation for dividing the world’s economies by economic status. The Third World falls behind First World and Second World but is ahead of the Fourth World, but Fourth World countries are hardly recognized.
Understanding Third World Countries
A common notion to gauge the success of a country is through its economic status, critical economic metrics like the gross domestic product (GDP), GDP growth, GDP per capita, employment growth, and an unemployment rate.
The Third World nations are characteristically inferior to First World and Second World countries in those areas mentioned earlier. Besides, these countries have inferior production and labor market features usually accompanied by inadequate infrastructure, improper sanitation, relatively low levels of education, and limited access to health care services, and lower costs of living.
Due to the poor conditions, the Third World countries are often among those on the close-watch list of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. They aim to provide global aid for projects that help improve infrastructure and economic systems, thus alleviating hunger and poverty and improving quality of life.
Economic dependency on other countries is also a clear indication for countries to belong to the Third World. As a result of their poor economic state, they rely heavily on other nations that are economically and technologically stable and advanced. Their economics usually lack modernity and independence, are typically geared towards serving more developed countries.
Many investors are targeting these countries as they see potentially higher returns through possible growth opportunities despite the relatively higher risks. Although these countries are generally characterized as inferior economically, innovative and industrial breakthroughs can substantially improve quickly.
Due to the confusion on the definition, the term “Third World” is less likely used. The terms were changed into least developed countries, developing countries and the Global South. These third world countries are now referred to as the Least Developed Countries (LCD), which have the lowest socioeconomic development and Human Development Index ratings, based on UN data. These countries have a low quality of education, and literacy, underprovided proper nutrition, have economic vulnerabilities, and have widespread poverty.
According to United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Economic Analysis, least developed countries (LDC) were identified based on the three criteria: income, human assets, and economic vulnerability conducted by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) mandated by the General Assembly (GA) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
There were key indicators used to measure each of the criteria, and the LDCs (Updated 2018) include:
Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Lao People’s Dem. Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Yemen, Zambia.