During the Cold War, the United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and Western European nations and allies were categorized as First World countries. Second World countries included China, Cuba, the Soviet Union and their allies. Third World countries typically had colonial pasts in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the terminology of the “three worlds” has changed somewhat. Today, the term Third World is used to describe a country that is not developed as much as other countries and faces economic, social, political, environmental and other issues. This has led to some confusion as to how the term was originally used. For example, there were several European countries that were not aligned with NATO or the Communist Bloc that are quite prosperous today. Going by the historical definition, nations including Finland, Sweden, Ireland and Switzerland were Third World countries. Based on the definition that is used today, these would not be considered Third World countries. Instead, what many now interpret “Third World” to mean encompasses economically poor and non-industrialized countries, as well as newly industrialized countries.
The use of the term “Third World” is being used less frequently because of the confusion about its definition. Instead, it is being replaced with terms including least developed countries, developing countries and the Global South. The Least Developed Countries, or LDCs, are based on United Nations data that have the lowest socioeconomic development and Human Development Index ratings. These countries have weaknesses in areas including nutrition, education and literacy, have economic vulnerabilities, and have widespread poverty.
Mexico is considered to be both a Third World country and a developing country. By historical definition, Mexico would be considered a Third World country because Mexico did not align with NATO or the Communist Bloc following World War II. By the current definition, Mexico is a developing country. Poverty and lack of basic education are both issues throughout Mexico, as well as underdeveloped neighborhoods. Mexico, however, does have an institutionalized government, a law system, public healthcare, public education, and infrastructure.
India is considered to be a Third World country and is also a developing country today. India has a high poverty rate, corruption, an outdated caste system, and other significant issues that have stunted its development. India is part of BRICS, which is an acronym for as association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Brazil is considered to be a Third World country, based on the historical definition, and a developing country. Brazil is part of BRICS, and has the largest economy of any country in South America and Central America; however, Brazil has a low BDP per capita, low living standards, and high birth and death rates.
The Philippines is historically a Third World country and currently a developing country. The GDP per capita is low and the infant mortality rate is high. Many of its citizens lack access to health care and higher education as well.
Vietnam, by historical definition, is a Second World country because it was part of the Communist Bloc after World War II. Vietnam is a developing country today and is developing quickly partially in part to its shift to a market economy. Vietnam’s economy is continuing to grow, and its education and health care have made significant improvements in the past 20 years. Vietnam is aiming to become a developed country within the next couple of years.
China is a Second World country by historical definition, as it was part of the Communist Bloc. China is a developing country today and is part of BRICS. Although China has one of the largest economies in the world, there is a huge income gap, widespread poverty, and a slower urbanization rate than that of developed countries.
Because Thailand did not initially join the Allies or the Communism Bloc, it is a Third World country. Thailand is considered to be a developing country or more accurately a New Industrialized Country. This means that Thailand has advanced farther relative to other countries, but has not yet reached the level of modern industrialized nations, such as the Western Nations. A large part of Thailand is still poor and rural.
Jamaica is both a Third World country and a developing country. Jamaica’s economy is considered to be an upper-middle-income economy but is one of the slowest developing and depends on tourism, mining, and agriculture with no significant industrialization. Jamaica faces high poverty levels as well.
Peru is a Third World country historically and is currently a developing country. Peru has widespread poverty and lack of education among the masses. The economy has improved in recent years do to economic initiatives, international loans, and infrastructure projects but it seems as though Peru will need a few decades to become a developed country.
Note: The following United Nations Member States were not included in the latest Human Development Index report: North Korea, Monaco, Nauru, San Marino, Somalia, and Tuvalu.