The primary factor used to distinguish developed countries from developing countries is gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, a figure calculated by dividing a country's GDP by its population. For example, a small country with a GDP of $1 billion and a population of 50,000 has a GDP per capita of $20,000.
One unofficial threshold for a country with a developed economy is a GDP per capita of $12,000. Some economists prefer to see a per capita GDP of at least $25,000 to be comfortable declaring a country as developed, however. Many highly developed countries, including the United States, have high per capita GDPs of $40,000 or above.
Differences Between Developed and Developing Countries
Exceeding even the $12,000 GDP does not automatically qualify a country as being developed. Developed countries share several other characteristics:
- They are highly industrialized.
- Their birth and death rates are stable. They do not have excessively high birth rates because, thanks to quality medical care and high living standards, infant mortality rates are low. Families do not feel the need to have high numbers of children with the expectation that some will not survive. No developed country has an infant mortality rate higher than 10 per 1,000 live births. In terms of life expectancy, all developed countries boast numbers greater than 70 years; many average 80.
- They have more women working, particularly in high-ranking executive positions. These career-oriented women frequently choose to have smaller families or eschew having children altogether.
- They use a disproportionate amount of the world's resources, such as oil. In developed countries, more people drive cars, fly on airplanes, and power their homes with electricity and gas. Inhabitants of developing countries often do not have access to technologies that require the use of these resources.
- They have higher levels of debt. Nations with developing economies cannot obtain the kind of seemingly bottomless financing that more developed nations can.
Another measuring device: the human development index (HDI), developed by the United Nations as a metric to assess the social and economic development levels of countries. It quantifies life expectancy, educational attainment and income into a standardized number between 0 and 1; the closer to 1, the more developed the country. No minimum requirement exists for developed status, but most developed countries have HDIs of 0.8 or higher.
It's important to remember no set minimums or maximums exist for these metrics. Economists look at the totality of a country's situation before rendering judgment, and they do not always agree on a country's development status. For example, countries such as Mexico, Greece and Turkey are considered developed by some organizations and developing by others.
That being said, here is a list that defines the generally agreed-upon status – developed or developing – of 25 countries around the world.
Argentina is a developing country, even though it ranks higher than the vast majority of non-developed countries in most metrics.
Nobel laureate economist Simon Kuznets once quipped that there are four types of countries: developed, undeveloped, Japan and Argentina. His implication was that the unique circumstances of Argentina (and also of Japan) over the last century make the country difficult to pigeonhole as either developed or developing.
During the first part of the 20th century, Argentina was economically strong, and its living standards were high. Unfortunately, the ensuing decades witnessed political upheaval, economic turmoil and rapid erosion in quality of life. Argentineans' purchasing power was nearly wiped out in the early 1990s when inflation topped 2,000%.
Today the country's economy has rebounded somewhat. It is one of the strongest in South America or Central America. At greater than $14,000, Argentina's GDP per capita exceeds the $12,000 figure that most economists consider a minimum for consideration as a developed country. Many other issues, however, plague Argentina.
The country's infant mortality rate is 12 per 1,000 babies, which is double the rate of most developed nations, such as the United States. To compensate for the high number of infant deaths, Argentineans have more children than do families in most developed countries, as evidenced by the country's high birth rate of 17 per 1,000 people. There are large areas of Argentina where residents do not have access to clean water, healthy food or adequate medical care.
Australia is one of the most developed countries in the world. Its per capita GDP, at $49,144 as of 2016, ranks well above any reasonable threshold for developed country status. The country's infant mortality rate is three per 1,000 live births, one of the lowest rates in the world.
As of 2016, the HDI for Australia was 0.93, one of the highest in the world (second only to Norway). The Land Down Under boasts widespread industrialization, high literacy rates and quality health care for most of its citizens.
Brazil is not a developed country. Though it has several characteristics of one, including the largest economy in South America or Central America, Brazil is still considered as developing due to its low GDP per capita, low living standards, high infant mortality rate and other factors.
Brazil, as of 2016, has a population of 209.4 million and a GDP of 1.775 trillion. The country's GDP per capita is $8,651. While high for a developing country, this amount still falls short of the $12,000 threshold needed for classification as a developed country.
Brazil's high birth rate, at 15.2 births per 1,000 people, is also characteristic of a developing country. In addition to a high birth rate, Brazil has a high death rate. Several factors contribute, including lack of clean water; limited access to adequate health care, particularly in rural areas; deplorable housing conditions in many regions; and substandard diets. Developed countries have better infrastructure in place to support the health of their citizens.
A Brazilian's life expectancy, at 74 years, ranks higher than that of most developing countries but falls well short of 80, which is the average for developed nations. Once again, lack of quality health care prevents many citizens from growing into old age, since these are the years when quality health services are needed most.
Canada is a developed country. As the 11th-largest world economy, Canada has a diverse economic base. It has a wealth of natural resources, including oil, gas, and coal. As such, the country is able to support its own energy needs as well as export natural resources to other countries.
Canada's proximity to the United States and a favorable exchange rate have also triggered a strong manufacturing climate in the country. Global companies such as Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Ford and Honda are among those that manufacture products in Canada.
Canadians enjoy universal health care coverage, with all residents having access to free medical care through a government-provided program. Canada has a strong public school system and highly-ranked universities. In a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canadian students demonstrated above-average math and science performances, placing in the top 10 of all participants. Canada's top universities include the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and McGill University. Canada also boasts a generous national paid leave program for new parents.
With a robust economy, highly regarded educational institutions and a high standard of living for its residents, Canada displays the necessary attributes to make it a developed country.
Chile is a developed country. It is also the only country in Latin America that is generally recognized as a developed country. In 2010, the country made the historic step of joining the OECD. Chile's economic and quality of life metrics, such as its per capita gross domestic product (GDP), infant mortality rate, life expectancy and human development index (HDI) are sufficient for most economists to classify the country as developed.e also offer some wiggle room. However, no developed country has a life expectancy below 70 or an infant mortality rate higher than 10 per 1,000 live births.
As of 2016, the per capita GDP in Chile was $22,145. This is low for a developed country, but it has improved rapidly throughout the 21st century and continues to trend upward. The country's life expectancy is 75 and its infant mortality rate is 7 per 1,000. These are not elite numbers but they are good enough for development status.
Chile's HDI is 0.82, slightly above the 0.8 threshold. Perhaps most importantly, the outlook for Chile is exceedingly bright; this is based on the remarkable improvements the country has made in its economy and quality of life in a short period of time.
China is not a developed country. Despite having the world's second-largest economy and third-largest military, China is still not classified as a developed country. The biggest reason: Its per capita GDP remains below any accepted minimum threshold for developed-country status. Other attributes indicating China is not developed include its high proportion of agriculture and low level of technological innovation. Poverty is widespread in China; in fact, more Chinese people live in poverty than the entire population of England. Over one-sixth of the country's residents live on less than $2 per day.
France is a developed country and has one of the world's largest economies. As of 2016, France has the world’s sixth-largest economy by nominal gross domestic product (GDP), and it is the fourth-largest nation in terms of aggregate household wealth. While at $39,678, its GDP per capita is a bit lower than other European nations such as Germany and Switzerland, its HDI is a robust .89.
France is a founding member of the Group of Seven (G-7), an international organization established in 1985 to ease economic cooperation among the world's largest industrial nations. France has the European Union’s second-largest economy by purchasing power parity (PPP), trailing only Germany. France benefits from a diverse economy, featuring technology, transportation and agriculture. Featuring some of the world’s most famous art museums and best cuisine, France is renowned for its culture. With 84 million visitors annually, it ranks as the number one tourist destination in the world. The tourism industry is responsible for 7% of the nation’s GDP.
Germany is a developed country due to both a thriving economy and a high quality of life for its residents.
Driven by its highly skilled labor force, Germany is Europe's strongest economy, and it is the fourth largest economy in the world. The nation is known for delivering world-class quality in products including machinery, motor vehicles, electronics and pharmaceuticals. Germany recently surpassed China as the world's largest surplus economy, with its exported products exceeding its imported products. Top German companies include Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG, Siemens AG, BASF and Bayer AG. The country's per capita GDP is $47,268.
German citizens enjoy access to universal health care coverage. All Germans must belong to a nonprofit sickness fund that covers most necessary medical procedures and medications. In addition to providing adequate health care programs, Germany also provides public education to all of its residents. According to OECD, German children are provided with access to early education programs. The German education system has a dual vocational and academic track, training students to easily move into employment if they choose not to attend university. In addition, German students have recently shown progress in both reading and math performance.
Greece is a developed country by most meaningful metrics. However, its well-documented financial struggles in the last decade have caused doubt in some quarters: Things became so bad in 2013 that index provider MCSI downgraded Greece from a developed economy to an emerging market economy.
As of 2016, Greece's per capita GDP is $26,680. This is sufficient for most economists to classify the country as developed. Its infant mortality rate, at four per 1,000 as of 2015, is very low. As of 2013, Greeks also have an impressive life expectancy at 81 years of age.
Greece's HDI is 0.87, which also places it above the most common threshold for developed status.
Israel is considered a developed country, although it has substantial poverty and large income gaps. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranked Israel as 23rd in the world by its per capita GDP of $35,432.
Israel has a highly developed technology sector. Except for China, Israel has the most companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange outside of the United States. In 2014, Israeli tech companies had 18 initial public offerings (IPOs) that generated $9.8 billion.
The UN states that Israel’s life expectancy increased by 7.7 years between 1980 and 2013. Years of expected schooling increased by 3.1 years during the same time frame. GDP increased by around 112%. Overall, the United Nations gives Israel an HDI value of 0.89, which ranks Israel18th in the world.
The UN notes that despite Israel's high score on the HDI, there is a lack of uniform distribution of human development across the entire population. The UN has created an Inequality-Adjusted HDI to give a more accurate representation on how the HDI factors are spread across a country, and Israel’s Inequality-Adjusted HDI is 0.78, which is over a 10% drop due to inequality. Though less than the average loss for high HDI countries (which is 12.3%), it indicates that, despite the high HDI score, not all of Israel’s population has the same access to education, health care and income.
Italy is a developed nation with extensive infrastructure, a rich cultural history and control over several exports. Italy has the eighth-highest nominal gross domestic product (GDP) in the world at $1.16 trillion; its per capital GDP stands at $35,896. Italy's manufacturing industry is very well-developed, and it is ranked sixth in the world. In particular, Italy is known for producing high-quality luxury products, such as fashion accessories, sports cars and food products. It is the world's second-largest producer of wine. Italy's largest export is cars, accounting for 3% of all exports. Other notable exports include footwear, furniture and precious metal jewelry.
Sixty-eight percent of Italy's 25 million workers are employed in service industries, while 4% work in agriculture, which is a key indicator that the nation is developed. Standard & Poor's has assigned the country a credit rating of BBB-. Italy alone accounts for 4.92% of the entire world's wealth, ranked fifth in the world for cumulative wealth. The country's Human Development Index (HDI) is 0.87 and is the 27th highest in the world.
Foreign reserves weigh in at $181.7 billion. Natural gas wells have been discovered in the Po Valley and in the Adriatic Sea, which may contribute to future income reserves. The country's state-owned network of railroads is well-developed and is the 12th largest in the world. Italy is home to a number of multinational corporations with notable yearly revenues, including the petroleum company Eni and energy company Enel. The present-day commercial banking industry has its beginning in Italy, and today the nation's largest financial services company, UniCredit, is regularly ranked on the Fortune 500 list.
Malaysia is not considered a developed country, despite undergoing rapid economic development over the past five decades. Malaysia's gross domestic product (GDP), per capita income, level of industrialization and overall standard of living are not on par with other developed nations.
With a GDP per capita of $9,766 and an HDI of 0.78 currently, Malaysia is classified as an emerging economy by the World Bank. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also classifies Malaysia as an emerging and developing country. Malaysia shares common characteristics with other emerging economies, such as Brazil, Indonesia and China, including low-to-middle per capita earnings, rapid economic growth, high volatility, less mature capital markets and above-average return for investors.
Still, the country is coming close to developed status. Since the 1970s, Malaysia has gone from relying primarily on raw natural resources to becoming a leading exporter of natural gas and lower-cost consumer goods – especially electronics and electrical appliances – to developed nations.
As of 2016, Mexico is not quite a developed country, even though it beats the majority of its peers in the developing world on most economic and quality of life metrics. As of 2016, Mexico's per capita GDP is $17,276. While that is higher than the common $12,000 threshold, it's insufficient given various quality-of-life factors that come close to, but don't quite hit, acceptable levels for developed-nation status. A life expectancy of 77 years ranks higher than most developing countries, but it still falls below the U.S. (79 years) and Canada (81 years). The story is the same for infant mortality rate, which is 11 per 1,000 live births. In addition, Mexico is plagued by large swaths of poverty, lack of quality health care and limited access to clean water. Its overall HDI score is 0.76.
Mexico is close. Consider it one of the most advanced developing countries in the world.
The Netherlands is a developed country, demonstrating relative strength across all the metrics, and combining a robust economy with a high standard of living for its residents.
The Netherlands' GDP is the 17th highest in the world, which is impressive considering that its population of almost 17 million people ranks 65th in the world. When considering per capita GDP, the Netherlands' economy demonstrates its real power, with a figure of $48,458 that moves it up to 11th place. The Netherlands is the eighth-highest exporter of products in the world, specializing in the export of petroleum and computers. Many global companies base their headquarters in the Netherlands, including Royal Dutch Shell, ING Groep and Koninklijke Philips.
According to the OECD, the Netherlands fares well in providing its citizens with the tools necessary to build a high quality of life. The Netherlands ranks above average in education excellence. Although the country is below average in environmental quality, the health and life expectancy for residents is in line with other developed countries. Interestingly, the Netherlands ranks very highly in terms of work/life balance, with fewer than 0.5% of residents reporting that they work long hours in comparison with the global average of 13%. Its HDI is a sterling .92, the fifth-highest in the world.
Nigeria is not a developed country by any reasonable measure. The country's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is much too low, as are its living standards. Industrialization in Nigeria lags behind all the countries upon which universal agreement of developed status exists. Nigeria also suffers from low literacy rates, poor health care and a stratospheric infant mortality rate.
As of 2016, Nigeria's per capita GDP sits at $5,992. Even if you do not adhere to the $12,000 threshold as a hard-and-fast rule, Nigeria's economy comes in well below any reasonable definition of "developed." Poverty is widespread, and large swaths of the country lack access to quality health care and even clean water.
The infant mortality rate in Nigeria is a high 69 per 1,000 live births, while the life expectancy rate is low: only 53 years. Its overall HDI value is .51.
North Korea is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Because of its penchant for secrecy and isolation, exact metrics on the country's economy are difficult to obtain. However, the most recent estimates place its per capita gross domestic product (GDP) at a pitifully low level and reveal soaring poverty rates and horrific standards of living.
North Korea is run by a totalitarian regime that permits no economic freedom. The means of production are 100% controlled by the government. The country's leadership is hostile to most of the world, which makes obtaining reliable economic data on North Korea fraught with difficulty.
Best estimates place North Korea's per capita GDP at less than $2,000, which indicates a wretchedly poor economy. More than one-quarter of the country's residents are so poor they do not get enough to eat each day. Technological innovation in North Korea is almost nil; agricultural products comprise most of the country's exports. While figures on infant mortality and life expectancy cannot be obtained with reasonable accuracy, most analysts project these numbers as abysmal and well below any meaningful threshold for developed country status.
Norway is a highly developed country, and typically has a world GDP ranking in the top 30, with a 2014 GDP at $500 million in 2014. Norway's per capita GDP is ranked ninth in the world at $61,471. Since the industrial revolution, the country’s major export has been crude oil and petroleum products. Norway is the third-largest exporter of natural gas in the world, which has helped it build a large sovereign wealth fund of $830 billion. The export of petroleum has helped bolster Norway’s economy, and the country’s residents have an average gross salary of $5,166 per month, making it one of the wealthier nations in the world. The country’s oil economy is controlled by the government through broad regulation. Enterprises are largely state-owned and funded.
Norway has been assigned a AAA credit rating from Standard and Poor's Financial Services and Fitch Ratings, Inc. It has established some of the world’s most stringent anti-corruption laws and is ranked fifth of 177 countries for its equitable court systems and enforcement of property right laws. The country’s regulations promote business freedom and freedom in trade; the economy of Norway was ranked 27th most free in the world in 2015 by the World Heritage Foundation. Norway has high taxes to support its infrastructure and public systems. The top income tax rate falls at 47.8%.
Part of what signifies Norway as a developed country is a vast majority of workers (77.6%) are employed in the services sector rather than in agriculture or manufacturing. Norway's HDI rank of .94 is the highest in the world.
The Philippines is not a developed country. The nation falls behind on every one of the most common metrics used by economist to determine development status. The Philippines' per capita gross domestic product (GDP), Human Development Index (HDI) and life expectancy sit well below the thresholds for developed country status. Moreover, the country's infant mortality rate is very high, its industrialization is minimal, and many of its citizens lack access to quality health care and higher education.
As of 2016, per capita GDP in the Philippines is $7,358, well below any accepted minimum for developed country status. The country's latest HDI is 0.66. Its infant mortality rate is 22 per 1,000 live births and its life expectancy is 69 years.
Qatar is a developing country, according to the United Nations. However, as the country with the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita ($143,788), Qatar proves to be somewhat of an exception to the rule of what counts as developing. Many citizens enjoy luxuries of the developed world, such as access to technology, leisure activities, fast food and expendable income.
Many of Qatar’s elite have lifestyles that are comparable to or even more lavish than citizens of developed countries, particularly in the country's capital, Doha. The income gap between the wealthiest and poorest citizens of Qatar is very skewed. While there is extreme wealth and access for some, there is extreme poverty and struggle for many more – reminiscent of the conditions that typify many of the other developing countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula. Perhaps that's why Qatar's HDI is .85 – above the minimum for a developed country, but low considering how high the GDP is.
Qatar's infrastructure is also lacking in transportation and education. The steady growth of Qatar’s population, due in part to a constant stream of immigrants (approximately 500 per day), is straining Qatar’s existing outdated and undersized transportation infrastructure beyond capacity. Schools are also exceedingly rare, which has led to exceptionally high rates of parents homeschooling their children.
Qatar's markets are booming largely because of the oil industry in the country. Dramatic plans have been laid out for new benchmarks in 2022, when the country will host the World Cup, and 2030, when Qatar’s "2030 Vision" is planned to finish unfurling. Perhaps by then, it will have become a developed country.
Russia is not currently classified as a developed country, though it once reigned alongside the United States as a world superpower. The country's economy fell apart with the 1991 implosion of the Soviet Union. Poverty is widespread, living standards are low and, typical of a non-developed country, exportation of natural resources fuels much of Russia's economy.
Russia is borderline at best on most developed-country metrics. Its per capita GDP is $24,451. Its infant mortality rate is eight per 1,000, while life expectancy is an unimpressive 71 years. Its HDI is .79 and, when adjusted for inequality, drops to .71.
Russia's economy lacks diversity, with natural resources driving much of it. Shockingly for a nation that led the space race for a time in the mid-20th century, little to no technological innovation has come out of Russia in the 21st century. Russia, as of 2015, is clearly not a developed country.
A few index providers may disagree, but South Korea is widely regarded as having joined the developed world. The country has a strong per capita gross domestic product (GDP), low infant mortality rate and high life expectancy, and offers its citizens widespread access to quality health care and higher education.
South Korea's per capita GDP, at $34,549 as of 2016, meets developed-country criteria by any reasonable standard. Life expectancy is an impressive 81 years; the infant mortality rate is similarly low, at three per 1,000 live births.
As of 2016, South Korea's HDI is 0.89.
Spain is a developed country. Nearly all organizations that analyze development status classify it as such. Spain has a strong per capita gross domestic product (GDP), a long life expectancy and a low infant mortality rate.
Spain's per capita GDP, as of 2016, is $34,526. Its infant mortality and life expectancy numbers are excellent; fewer than four infants die per 1,000 live births, and the average Spaniard lives to be 82. Spain's 2013 HDI score is 0.87, well above the commonly accepted threshold for developed country status. With a diversified economy, widespread quality health care and higher education, and solid economic and quality of life metrics, Spain is unquestionably a developed country as of 2016.
Sweden is considered to be a developed country. In fact, Sweden is considered to be one of the most highly developed post-industrial societies in the world. According to the IMF, Sweden has a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of $46,420 as of 2016. It is ranked number 17 in the world in terms of GDP per capita.
Sweden also ranks highly on the HDI, with a value for 2016 of .90. This ranking places Sweden at number 14 out of 187 countries.
According to the UN, Sweden's life expectancy increased by six years between 1980 and 2013 – it's currently at 82 years – with mean years of schooling increasing by three years. The average Swede enjoys nearly 16 years of education. The standard of living, measured by gross national income, increased by over 80% in the same period.
Sweden is known for having a high quality of life, with low unemployment and poverty rates. Citizens have free access to health care. As a society, Sweden places great importance on environmental sustainability as well.
As of 2016, the CIA World Factbook has yet to add Taiwan to its list of developed countries. However, many organizations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), do classify the island formerly known as Formosa as developed. The country's economic and quality of life metrics lend further support to its status as a developed country. Taiwan's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is strong, and the country's economy is diversified. Its citizens have a long life expectancy, low infant mortality rate and good access to quality health care and higher education.
Taiwan's per capita GDP, at $39,767, easily classifies it as a developed country. Its infant mortality rate is four per 1,000 live births and its life expectancy is 79 years, both numbers ranking it among the world's most-developed nations. Taiwan also maintains an impressive HDI score of .88 (though it is calculated by its own government, as the UN dos not recognize it as a sovereign state).
Perhaps the best example of a country that straddles the line between developed and developing is Turkey. The CIA World Factbook classifies it as a developed nation. However, other groups such as Dow Jones, FTSE and MSCI still consider it developing. Confounding the issue is Turkey's per capita gross domestic product (GDP), infant mortality rate and life expectancy, all of which hover in the gray area.
As of 2015, Turkey's per capita GDP is $19,618 (more than the bare minimum of $12,000, but below the $25,000 that some economists prefer for "developed" status). Its infant mortality rate, at 12 per 1,000, is high for a developed country, but not necessarily disqualifying. The story is similar for the country's life expectancy of 75 years.
As for HD, Turkey's is 0.76, falling a tad short of the .8 threshold for developed nations.