The term Global North is a widely accepted synonym for first-world or developed countries, which are also the richest countries in the world according to metrics including GNP per capita and the Legatum Prosperity Index. The Global North is the economic opposite of the Global South, a term coined in 1969 to describe the world's developing and least developed countries.
The term Global North is both unofficial and geographically imprecise, which can lead to confusion as to which countries are considered part of the Global North. However, the countries and territories considered by the United Nations to be part of the Global North are shown on the map above and in the table following this text.
Differences between the Global North and the Global South
Generally speaking, the countries of the Global North have well-developed, mature economies and are both wealthy and politically stable. They also tend to be the most technologically advanced countries and their population growth is low. Most are located in North America, Europe, and Northern Asia, although a handful of southern countries, including Australia and New Zealand, are usually considered part of the Global North. The Global North has roughly 25% of the world's population, but earns 80% of the wealth and tends to dominate the Global South both politically and economically.
Countries in the Global South, by comparison, are those whose economies are still developing. They tend to be located in Africa, South America, and Southern Asia—though, perhaps ironically, more Global South countries are located in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern Hemisphere. Global South countries also display faster population growth than those of the Global North.
Which countries are part of the Global North?
The precise answer to this question often depends upon the source. Because the division between Global North and Global South is based on economics rather than geography, the dividing line between the two is not the equator, which divides the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Instead, most sources consult either the Human Development Index (HDI), a quality-of-life metric compiled by the United Nations; or the Brandt Line, a wandering borderline which ignores geography and instead uses GDP per capita as its guide.
The Global North according to the Brandt Line
The Brandt Line begins at roughly 30 degrees north latitude, runs along the edges of the United States and Mexico, then crosses the Atlantic to trace the border between Europe (Global North) and Africa (Global South), meanders across Asia, splitting China from Russia before swerving south to lasso the Southern Hemisphere countries of Australia and New Zealand into the Global North. The Brandt Line was first proposed in the 1980s, and despite roughly forty years of economic development since, it remains largely accurate today.
The Global North according to the Human Development Index (HDI)
Another popular method for determining the countries of the Global North is to use the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI) as a guideline. HDI is an aggregate metric that compiles multiple statistics to determine the overall quality of life in a country. Quality of life tends to parallel economic development, which makes HDI an excellent measure of whether a country belongs in the Global North or Global South. Most experts consider any country with an HDI of .80 (within a range of 0.00 to 1.00) to be part of the Global North.