Third World

What does 'Third World' mean

"Third World" is a phrase commonly used to describe a developing nation, but actually started as term used to describe a country's allegiance. A Third World country is a country whose views are not aligned with NATO and capitalism or the Soviet Union and communism. The use of the term "Third World" started during the Cold War and was used to identify which of three categories the countries of the world aligned with. The First World meant that you aligned with NATO and capitalism, and the Second World meant you supported Communism and the Soviet Union.


The original definition for a Third World country, which referred to a country's allegiance, was straightforward, but now that definition is archaic. Third World countries were labeled during the Cold War to reference those nations that were not aligned with either the United States or the Soviet Union. Now that the Soviet Union no longer exists, the term Third World is still used, but the definition is not as precise and is open to some interpretation.

Developing Nations and Third World Countries

Third World countries are for the most part poor and underdeveloped. In these countries, low levels of education, poor infrastructure, improper sanitation and poor access to health care mean living conditions are inferior. Due to this reason, the terms Third World and developing nation are often used interchangeably. However, there is no precise definition of "developing nation" either. While some organizations have their own definition of what a developing nation is, the World Trade Organization has no exact definition of a developing country.

World Trade Organization (WTO) members self-declare whether they are developed or developing countries. There are certain rights that come with having a developing country status with the WTO. For example, developing countries can be granted longer transition periods before they implement agreements, and they can receive some assistance. While a country can self-declare its developing status with the WTO, other members can challenge a member's decision to take advantage of the provisions provided to developing countries.

Additional Characteristics

There are dozens of Third World countries around the world, but they are clustered in Asia, Africa and Latin America. There is some sentiment that the term "Third World" isn't politically correct, due to its association with poverty. The argument is that there are many countries around the world where portions of the population live in impoverished conditions, making it unfair to use poverty as a characteristic to label an entire country. For what it is worth, the Associated Press recommends the use of "developing country" over Third World.