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What Do You Need To Know About Third World Country?

The term “Third World” carries historical weight, originating during the Cold War as a way to categorize nations based on their economic and political affiliations. Initially used to describe countries that were neither aligned with the capitalist First World nor the communist Second World, it has since evolved to represent economically underdeveloped and developing nations, often former colonies struggling with poverty, limited infrastructure, and economic instability.

These countries are characterized by a complex web of economic, social, and political factors. Economically, they exhibit low GDP, high unemployment, and a reliance on agriculture. For instance, the average GDP per capita in Third World countries is around $5,000, compared to over $50,000 in developed nations. Socially, they face challenges in education, healthcare, and basic services, leading to high poverty rates and inequality. Politically, issues of instability, limited civil liberties, and dependence on foreign aid further compound their struggles.

Examples of Third World countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Haiti, and Somalia, primarily located in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. 

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What is a Third World Country?

Third World countries are typically characterized by economic underdevelopment, a lack of infrastructure, high poverty rates, and economic instability. According to the World Bank, around 689 million people, or 9.2% of the global population, lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2017, with the majority concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

These nations often exhibit low GDP per capita, limited industrialization, and high unemployment rates compared to more developed countries. For instance, the GDP per capita in low-income countries was just $528 in 2020, compared to $51,939 in high-income countries. Lack of access to basic infrastructure, such as clean water, sanitation, and electricity, further exacerbates the challenges faced by Third World countries. In 2020, only 55% of the population in the least developed countries had access to electricity, compared to 100% in developed countries.

Social and human development factors also lag behind in Third World countries. Life expectancy at birth in low-income countries was just 62.2 years in 2019, compared to 79.7 years in high-income countries. Access to education is also limited, with only 66% of children in low-income countries completing primary school in 2019.

Politically, Third World countries often face instability, corruption, and dependence on foreign aid. In 2019, official development assistance and official aid received by low-income countries amounted to $58.6 billion.

Historical Context and Evolution of the Term

The concept of the “Third World” emerged during the Cold War era as a way to categorize nations based on their political and economic alignment. The term was coined by French demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952, who compared the non-aligned countries to the “Third Estate” in the French Revolution. During this time, the world was divided into three categories:

  • First World: The capitalist, industrialized countries aligned with NATO and the United States
  • Second World: The communist countries aligned with the Soviet Union
  • Third World: The remaining non-aligned countries, mostly former colonies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East

The differences among nations previously classified as Third World have also grown significantly over time. Countries like Brazil, India, and Indonesia have achieved substantial economic growth and are no longer considered poor nations in the 21st century. This growing differentiation has led to the term becoming increasingly anachronistic and less useful for categorizing countries based on their economic and political systems.

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Criteria for Classification

Third World countries exhibit stark economic disparities, with low GDP per capita of $528 in 2020 compared to $51,939 in high-income nations. Industrialization levels are low, hindering competitiveness, while high unemployment rates perpetuate poverty and inequality. In critical sectors like education, healthcare, and sanitation, challenges persist, with limited access to quality services. Political instability, limited civil liberties, and dependence on foreign aid further complicate the socio-political landscape, impacting economic development and governance.

IntroductionThe least developed countries (LDCs) are those listed by the United Nations based on the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development.
Criteria for ClassificationLDCs are classified based on three criteria: poverty (GNI per capita), human resource weakness (nutrition, health, education, and adult literacy), and economic vulnerability.
Poverty ThresholdAs of 2018, a country must have a GNI per capita less than $1,025 to be included on the list, and over $1,230 to graduate from it.
Current StatisticsAs of December 2023, 45 countries were still classified as LDCs, while seven graduated between 1994 and 2023.
WTO RecognitionThe World Trade Organization recognizes the UN list, stressing that WTO measures can help LDCs increase exports, attract investment, and participate in the multilateral trading system.

List of Third World Countries

Here is a list of Third World Countries:

  1. Angola
  2. Benin
  3. Burkina Faso
  4. Burundi
  5. Central African Republic
  6. Chad
  7. Comoros
  8. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  9. Djibouti
  10. Eritrea
  11. Ethiopia
  12. Gambia
  13. Guinea
  14. Guinea-Bissau
  15. Lesotho
  16. Liberia
  17. Madagascar
  18. Malawi
  19. Mali
  20. Mauritania
  21. Mozambique
  22. Niger
  23. Rwanda
  24. Sao Tome and Principe
  25. Senegal
  26. Sierra Leone
  27. Somalia
  28. South Sudan
  29. Sudan
  30. Togo
  31. Uganda
  32. United Republic of Tanzania
  33. Zambia
  34. Afghanistan
  35. Bangladesh
  36. Cambodia
  37. Lao People’s Democratic Republic
  38. Myanmar
  39. Nepal
  40. Timor-Leste
  41. Yemen
  42. Haiti
  43. Kiribati
  44. Solomon Islands
  45. Tuvalu

Also Read: Least Developed Countries In the World

Implications and Challenges for Third World Countries

The implications and challenges faced by Third World countries are profound and multifaceted. Economic challenges such as poor infrastructure, limited access to healthcare and education, and high levels of poverty hinder sustainable development and economic growth. These nations struggle with inadequate healthcare systems and low levels of education, perpetuating social disparities and limiting opportunities for human development.

Poverty, lack of access to basic services, and social inequality are prevalent in Third World countries. These pervasive issues undermine individual well-being and contribute to broader societal challenges. Poverty traps individuals in cycles of deprivation, limiting their access to opportunities for advancement and economic empowerment. 

The political landscape in Third World countries is often marked by instability, corruption, and external influences from global powers. These dynamics undermine democratic governance, erode public trust, and hinder progress towards sustainable development. External influences from global powers can distort domestic priorities and undermine national sovereignty, as Third World countries may be pressured to adopt policies that serve the interests of more powerful nations rather than their own citizens.

Contemporary Perspectives

Modern interpretations of the Third World classification, criticisms, and ongoing debates surround the term’s relevance in today’s global context.

In today’s global context, modern interpretations of the Third World classification have sparked debates and criticisms regarding its relevance and implications. Critics argue that the term perpetuates outdated stereotypes and fails to capture the complexities of diverse nations’ development trajectories.

Moreover, the emergence of terms like “developing countries,” “emerging economies,” and “low- and middle-income countries” reflects a more nuanced understanding of the diverse economic and social realities across the globe.

Modern Interpretations of Third World Classification

The concept of the Third World has evolved significantly since its inception during the Cold War era. Today, the term is often replaced by more precise expressions like “developing countries,” “underdeveloped countries,” or “low- and middle-income countries”. These modern interpretations acknowledge the complexities of diverse nations’ development trajectories and the need for more nuanced categorizations.

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Criticisms and Debates Surrounding the Term

Criticisms of the Third World concept are closely linked to the Three Worlds classification scheme and the end of the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states has made the Third World largely redundant, leading to a general tendency to replace the three worlds scheme with a simplified “North-South dichotomy”. 

The term “Third World” has also been criticized for being outdated and unable to fully address what is meant by developing and less-developed countries today. Its concept is mostly a historical term and cannot fully capture the complexities of modern development challenges. The whole ‘Four Worlds’ system of classification has also been described as derogatory because the standard mainly focuses on each nation’s gross national product.


In reflecting on the evolution of the Third World classification and the debates surrounding its relevance today, it becomes evident that a shift towards more nuanced and inclusive terminology is essential. The criticisms and complexities associated with the term highlight the need for a deeper understanding of the diverse challenges faced by developing nations. As we navigate the dynamic global landscape, it is crucial to recognize the multifaceted nature of development and the importance of tailored approaches to address economic, social, and political disparities.

Looking ahead, the future prospects for Third World countries hinge on concerted efforts to promote sustainable development, foster democratic governance, and address systemic inequalities. Continued support and targeted development initiatives are vital to uplift these nations and empower their citizens to thrive in a rapidly changing world. By embracing a holistic and forward-thinking approach, we can pave the way for a more equitable and prosperous future for all, transcending the limitations of outdated classifications and embracing a more inclusive vision of global progress.


What are Third World Countries?

Third World countries are nations historically characterized by economic underdevelopment, lack of infrastructure, and high poverty rates. They are typically positioned between more developed First World countries and the least developed Fourth World countries.

How are Third World Countries Classified?

Third World countries are often classified based on a combination of economic indicators, social development factors, and political considerations. These nations face challenges in education, healthcare, sanitation, and overall standards of living.

What is the Current Terminology for Third World Countries?

The term “Third World” is now considered outdated and pejorative. Modern terminology includes terms like “developing countries,” “underdeveloped countries,” or “low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)” to describe nations facing economic and social challenges.

How can Third World Countries improve their Economic, Social, and Political Standing?

Continued support and development initiatives are crucial for Third World countries to address their challenges and improve their economic, social, and political standing. Investments in infrastructure, education, healthcare, and governance are essential for sustainable development and progress.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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