Who Decides Which Countries are Part of the Third World?

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  • Written By: Matthew F.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2019
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Many different factors have contributed to the designation of which countries are part of the Third World. Since the inception of the term after World War II, Third World classification has meant different things. Recently, a designation has come to represent the underdeveloped countries of the late 20th and early 21st century. These countries are often dependent on other nations in poverty. Many of the arguments of which countries are part of this grouping start in poor African and Asia countries.

Third World classification was coined by the French demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952. Sauvy, in deciding which countries are part of the Third World, compared them to a pre-French Revolution notion of classes. By analogy of the Estates in 18th century France, Sauvy called the United States and its capitalist allies the First World. He designated the communist bloc, the U.S.S.R. and its allies, the Second World. The remaining countries of the world were given a Third World designation.

This theory was supported in 1956 by another group who tried to designate which countries are part of the Third World. The group was associated with Sauvy’s Institute of Demographic Studies. Francis Perroux then chimed in on the debate over which countries are in which class in 1960. He determined that this Third World designation should be given to underdeveloped countries of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Latin America.


In 1972, China’s Chairman Mao offered another arguing point for which countries are Third World. He called the superpower enemies of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. the First World. He said that Western Europe, Japan, Canada and Australia belonged to the Second World. All other countries, the underdeveloped and China, ended the discussion of which countries are Third World. Later discussions would be decided by academicians and political thinkers and leaders.

In the heat of the Cold War, the argument of which countries belonged in which class was mainly decided by political analysts and national leaders. A Third World movement was developed as countries began to classify themselves with this term, including Yugoslavia, Egypt, and India. As the war ended, the political distinctions between the blocs became muddled, and the term lost its analytical clarity. Since the Cold War, the term has been used to described underdeveloped and economically dependent countries with high birth mortality and high poverty.

Today, the classification of which countries are part of the Third World, and in turn First World and Second World, is decided by theorists and academicians. The term has no clear objective classification. It has been called an ideology, and not a reality. The decision of which countries are Third World comes down to those who are using the term, in politics, academics, or everyday life.


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this is good

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