Although exact definitions vary, generally speaking, a developing country is one with a low level of industrial and/or economic development, which leads directly or indirectly to social, political, economic, and environmental challenges that significantly impede quality of life in that country.
Also known as low and middle-income countries (LMICs)—a reference to their stunted economies, developing countries are less industrially advanced than countries classified as high-income, or developed countries. The most challenged among them are often given the sub-classification of least developed countries.
The United Nations uses a metric called the Human Development Index to determine whether a country is developed or developing. The index considers a broad range of factors, including economic growth, life expectancy, health, education, and quality of life. The highest possible HDI score is a 1.0. A country that scores less than .80 is considered developing.
Another frequently used method of determining whether a country is developed or developing is to examine that country's nominal GNI, or gross national income per capita, which is a useful at-a-glance tool to estimate a country's overall standard of living. Countries whose nominal GNI rises above a certain threshold (which changes slightly each year) are classified as developed, while those whose GNI falls below that amount are considered still developing.
Many developing countries encounter similar challenges. These include income inequality and/or widespread poverty, low education and literacy levels, inadequate infrastructure, and government corruption. Developing countries also often face challenges in energy production, as well as higher rates of violence against women. They may even struggle with health risks such as decreased access to safe water and sanitation, high levels of pollution, and a high percentage of people with infectious diseases.
The United Nations and many other organizations have established programs to help developing countries overcome the social, political, economic, and environmental challenges they face.