DEFINITION of First World

As defined during the Cold War, the term first world referred to a country that was aligned with the United States and other western nations in opposition to the former-Soviet Union and its allies. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, this use of the term has largely evolved.

More recently, the term first world has been used to describe a developed and industrialized country characterized by political stability, democracy, rule of law, a capitalist economy, economic stability and a high standard of living. Various metrics have been used to define first world nations, including GDP, GNP and literacy rates. The Human Development Index is also a good indicator in determining first world countries.


First-world countries tend to have stable currencies and robust financial markets, making them attractive to investors from all over the world. Examples of first world countries include the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Western European countries.

The ways that first-world nations are defined can vary by perspective. For example, a first-world nation might often be described as aligned or amicable with Western countries, highly industrialized, has comparatively low poverty, and high accessibility to modern resources and infrastructure.

What Designation as a First-World Nation Means

There is some controversy regarding the use of the term first world to describe modernized, democratic countries in comparison with developing nations and those with political regimes that do not align with western nations. There can be a tendency towards using the phrase as a way to rank some nations above others in terms of geopolitical significance. Such references can lead to divisive tension in international relations, especially as developing nations seek to negotiate with so-called first-world countries or appeal to the international community for support of their causes.

It is not uncommon for first-world nations to press for international policies, especially from an economic perspective, that will favor their industries and trade in order to protect or enhance their wealth and stability. This can include efforts to influence decisions made in such forums as the United Nations or the World Trade Organization.

Designation as a first-world nation does not necessarily mean a country has local access to certain luxuries or resources that are in demand. For example, oil production is a staple industry in many countries that historically have not been regarded as first-world nations. Brazil, for instance, contributes substantial amounts of oil to the overall world supply, along with other forms of production; however, the country is recognized as a developing, industrialized state more than as a first-world nation.