An underdeveloped country is a country characterized by widespread chronic poverty and less economic development than other nations. "Underdeveloped country" is an unofficial term, but countries that would qualify as underdeveloped are generally classified as developing countries or least-developed countries (LDCs) by the United Nations, which lists 46 nations as least-developed as of 2021 (full list below). Underdeveloped countries are alternately called low-income countries (a term growing in popularity) by World Bank and called emerging markets, newly industrialized countries, or members of the "Global South" by various other organizations.
One common method used to categorize the development of a country is the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI). The Human Development Index evaluates each country's human development by tracking indicators such as life expectancy, education, and per capita income. Human Development Index ranks countries on a scale from 0-1, from least developed to most developed. There are four tiers: low human development (0-.55), medium human development (.55-.70), high human development (.70-80), and very high human development (.80-1.0).
Useful as HDI is as a predictor, it is worth noting that a low HDI does not guarantee that a country will appear on the list of least-developed countries, and a relatively high HDI does not guarantee a country will not be classified as an LDC. The least-developed list is based upon a similar, but different set of criteria than HDI, so some variances exist between the two lists. For example, Nigeria does not make the list despite its HDI of 0.535, but Bangladesh is on the LDC list with an HDI of 0.632. In the case of Nigeria, its income may not be the most efficient, but it is large enough to not be at risk, so the country is not considered least-developed.
Underdeveloped countries have very low per capita income, with many residents living in very poor conditions with little access to education or health care. Additionally, underdeveloped countries tend to rely upon obsolete methods of production and social organization. These nations often experience high birth rates and population growth, which strains their infrastructure and supply chains, further contributing to their widespread poverty. In fact, these seven common economic traits appear in most every underdeveloped country:
The United Nations (UN) holds a conference approximately every ten years on the subject of the world's underdeveloped countries. During the meeting in 2011, the UN set a goal to graduate 50% of the current underdeveloped countries to a higher economic status by 2022. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has created an Integrated Framework of Action to integrate these countries into the global economy by assisting with trade and market access with the hopes of encouraging economic growth and development. The hope is that these countries can grow and become developed countries with well-developed economies and a high level of technological advancement. In fact, multiple countries have "graduated" from the United Nations' LDC list over the years, and five more are scheduled to join them soon.
World Bank Classification
UN LDC Notes
|Angola||0.590||Yes||Lower-Middle Income||Scheduled to graduate from the UN LDC list by the end of 2026.|
|Bhutan||0.668||Applied||Lower-Middle Income||Scheduled to graduate from the UN LDC list by the end of 2026.|
|Laos||0.608||Yes||Lower-Middle Income||Scheduled to graduate from the UN LDC list by the end of 2026.|
|Sao Tome and Principe||0.619||Applied||Lower-Middle Income||Scheduled to graduate from the UN LDC list by the end of 2026.|
|Solomon Islands||0.565||Yes||Lower-Middle Income||Scheduled to graduate from the UN LDC list by the end of 2026.|
The countries that are currently considered to be the least developed are South Sudan, Chad, Niger, Central African Republic, and Burundi.