What is a 'Less-Developed Country (LDC)'

Less-developed countries (LDCs) are low-income countries that face significant structural challenges to sustainable development. Forty-seven countries currently exist on the UN’S list of LDCs.

In some cases, less-developed countries are referred to as "emerging markets."

BREAKING DOWN 'Less-Developed Country (LDC)'

Less-developed countries are highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have fewer human assets than other nations. LDCs are able to access specific international support measures with regard to development assistance and trade that are not available to more developed nations. The CDP Secretariat of DPAD/DESA developed these support measures to improve the capacity of LDCs to access and benefit from the international support. The secretariat is also responsible for reviewing the status of LDCs and monitoring their progress after they graduate from the category.

The secretariat’s criteria for placing nations on the list of least developed countries include income, human assets, and economic vulnerability criteria:

  • Income thresholds are $1,025, which is set at the three-year average of gross national income or GNI per capita. The graduation threshold is 20 percent higher at $1,230.

  • Human assets are calculated using five indicators, grouped into a health and education subindex.

  • The economic vulnerability index measures is structural vulnerability to economic and environmental shocks, with a high vulnerability indicating major structural impediments to sustainable development.

List of Less-Developed Countries

In 2018, the list of less-developed countries was as follows:



Sao Tome and Principe (2015, 2018)

Angola (2015, 2018)



Bangladesh (2015, 2018)


Sierra Leone


Kiribati (2015, 2018)

Solomon Islands (2015, 2018)

Bhutan (2015, 2018)

Lao People’s Dem. Republic (2015, 2018)


Burkina Faso


South Sudan






Timor-Leste (2015, 2018)

Central African Republic





Tuvalu (2015, 2018)




Democratic Republic of the Congo


United Republic of Tanzania


Myanmar (2015, 2018)

Vanuatu (2015, 2018)


Nepal (2015, 2018)








In March 2018, the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) recommended that Bhutan, Kiribati, São Tomé and Príncipe and Solomon Islands graduate from the LDC category. The event was unprecedented; never before had the Committee recommended so many countries for graduation at a single review. In the 47 years that the LDC category has existed, only five countries have graduated: Botswana, Cabo Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Maldives and Samoa. The committee has scheduled Vanuatu and Angola for graduation in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

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