First World Countries 2021

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The term "First World" was first introduced by French demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952* and used frequently throughout the Cold War. The term was originally used to describe mostly democratic/capitalist countries that were politically aligned with NATO and the United States. By comparison, "Second World" countries referred to mostly communist nations aligned politically with the Soviet Union. Finally, "Third World" countries referred to neutral countries that did not fit into either previous category. However, since the Soviet Union's collapse signaled the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the meanings of these terms have changed significantly.

Modern First World Countries

Today, the term "First World countries" is essentially interchangeable with "developed countries", and typically describes countries that are considered to have reached the upper echelon of advancement in several categories. First World countries have a high-functioning democracy with little risk of instability or insurgency. Their economies are stable, innovative, and typically capitalist. First World countries enjoy the most advanced technologies, the highest standards of living, and the greatest degree of political and cultural influence across the globe.

First World is a subjective term (especially since its shift in meaning), so there is no definitive list of First World countries. However, a few common criteria are generally necessary in order for a country to earn First World distinction. Economic factors such as gross domestic product (GDP) and the gross national product (GNP) play a huge role, and many evaluators also consider additional factors such as life expectancy and literacy rate.

One of those evaluators is the United Nations, whose Human Development Index is one of the most highly respected analyses of per-nation quality of life in the world. Countries with an HDI score of 0.800 or higher are considered to have "very high human development", which would roughly equate to a First World country. The most recent HDI rankings will appear in the table lower down on this page, including the 66 countries that qualified for the distinction in the 2020 report. Additional lists of what would be considered First World countries include the International Monetary Fund's list of advanced economies, the CIA World Factbook's list of developed countries, and the World Bank's list of high-income economies.

The Original First World Countries

Under the original, 1950s Cold War-era definition of the term, any list of First World countries would have included NATO members the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Turkey, and West Germany. Many historians would also have added non-NATO allies, including some or all of Australia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan (perhaps surprisingly, considering the country fought for the Axis during WWII), New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Spain, and Thailand, as well as the neutral, but Western-aligned Austria, Ireland, and Sweden. That said, it is important to remember that such lists would be historic, and would not be applicable today.

Modern Second World and Third World Countries

Once the Cold War ended, the term "First World countries" morphed, taking on its current definition. "Third World countries" has also adopted a new definition, and has come to indicate what the United Nations terms "developing countries" and "least developed countries." (lists at the links). Conversely, after the communist bloc it originally represented dissolved, the term "Second World countries" has failed to evolve a new meaning and has largely fallen out of use. For the full list of countries and their respective HDI scores (those scoring 0.800 or higher would be First World countries), see the table below.

*Certain sources dispute Sauvy's statement that he invented the term himself. Some dissenters claim Charles De Gaulle said it first, while others claim that the United Nations had already begun using the term in a strictly economic sense in 1945.

First World Countries 2021

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First World Countries 2021

Ranking Country Human Development Index 2021 Population
1Norway0.9575,465,630
2Ireland0.9554,982,907
2Switzerland0.9558,715,494
4Iceland0.949343,353
4Hong Kong0.9497,552,810
6Germany0.94783,900,473
7Sweden0.94510,160,169
8Netherlands0.94417,173,099
8Australia0.94425,788,215
10Denmark0.945,813,298
11Finland0.9385,548,360
11Singapore0.9385,896,686
13United Kingdom0.93268,207,116
14New Zealand0.9314,860,643
14Belgium0.93111,632,326
16Canada0.92938,067,903
17United States0.926332,915,073
18Austria0.9229,043,070
19Liechtenstein0.91938,250
19Israel0.9198,789,774
19Japan0.919126,050,804
22Slovenia0.9172,078,724
23Luxembourg0.916634,814
23South Korea0.91651,305,186
25Spain0.90446,745,216
26France0.90165,426,179
28Malta0.895442,784
29Estonia0.8921,325,185
29Italy0.89260,367,477
31United Arab Emirates0.899,991,089
32Greece0.88810,370,744
33Cyprus0.8871,215,584
34Lithuania0.8822,689,862
35Poland0.8837,797,005
36Andorra0.86877,355
37Latvia0.8661,866,942
38Portugal0.86410,167,925
39Slovakia0.865,460,721
40Hungary0.8549,634,164
40Saudi Arabia0.85435,340,683
42Bahrain0.8521,748,296
43Croatia0.8514,081,651
43Chile0.85119,212,361
45Qatar0.8482,930,528
46Argentina0.84545,605,826
48Montenegro0.829628,053
49Romania0.82819,127,774
50Palau0.82618,169
51Kazakhstan0.82518,994,962
52Russia0.824145,912,025
53Belarus0.8239,442,862
54Turkey0.8285,042,738
55Uruguay0.8173,485,151
56Bulgaria0.8166,896,663
57Panama0.8154,381,579
58Barbados0.814287,711
58Bahamas0.814396,913
60Oman0.8135,223,375
61Georgia0.8123,979,765
62Costa Rica0.815,139,052
62Malaysia0.8132,776,194
64Kuwait0.8064,328,550
64Serbia0.8068,697,550
66Mauritius0.8041,273,433

First World Countries 2021