What is a Third World country? That depends upon when in history you ask the question. The meaning of "third world" has evolved considerably since it was first used more than half a century ago.
Originally coined by French historian Alfred Sauvy in 1952, "Third World" was part of the "three worlds" label system used to describe a country's political alliances. The "First World" countries were the largely democratic NATO countries such as the United States, Japan, and much of Western Europe. The "Second World" countries were the Communist Bloc countries, including the Soviet Union, China, and their allies. Finally, "Third World" countries were countries that remained neutral and allied with neither side.
However, that meaning changed after the fall of the Soviet Union (and the end of the Cold War) in the early 1990s. "Third World" lost its political root and came to refer to economically poor and non-industrialized countries, as well as newly industrialized countries. Under this modernized definition, Third World countries are those that display economic, social, political, and environmental issues such as high poverty rates, economic instability, and lack of essential human resources compared to the rest of the world.
This shifting definition has led to significant confusion as to which countries could correctly be called Third World today. For example, going by the historical definition, nations such as Finland, Sweden, Ireland, and Switzerland were not aligned with either NATO or the Communist Bloc, and so were Third World countries. However, none of these nations would be considered Third World under the modern definition—they're all too prosperous.
Adding insult to inaccuracy, when used in its modern context, Third World is considered to be a derogatory term that degrades countries which are developing and/or poor.
This combination of confusion and possible insult has made Third World a largely obsolete term. Instead, most modern speakers and writers favor more accurate, inoffensive terms such as "developing countries" and "least developed countries" (calculated by the United Nations) or "low-income countries" (based upon World Bank data).
As such, rather than presenting a list of modern Third World countries, we invite you to scroll down to our list of the world's least developed countries.