What are the Third World Countries? Definition and Classification

The third World countries Are those developing countries. These countries are in South Asia, Africa, Central America, Latin America, Oceania and the Middle East.

These territories have some common characteristics, such as poverty, high population density, high mortality rate, developed countries , etc.

Third world countries and others represented on a world map

The term third world was first used by the French demographer Alfred Suavy in the magazine L'Observateur , Where it was used to refer to countries that did not align with the bloc of the Soviet Union or the capitalist bloc during the Cold War.

It is said that the third world has a position compared to that of the Third State (the common people). And that the first and the second world (the developed capitalist and the communist countries, respectively) with the old clergy and the nobility.

In this sense, and according to Alfred Suavy:"Like the Third Estate, the third world has nothing and wants to be something." It implies that it is exploited and that its destiny is to become revolutionary.

Originally, the third world block consisted of the countries of India, Yugoslavia and Egypt. Politically, the Third World emerged in the Bandung Conference (1955), which established the movement of non-aligned countries. At one point it was thought that these countries could successfully court the communist and capitalist blocs in an economic partnership without being influenced by them.

However, fearing that they would line up with the enemy block, they were exploited and undermined by the superpowers of the First World and the Second World.

Broadly speaking, most Third World countries were colonies of strong countries such as England, Germany, France, the United States of America, the Netherlands, etc.

Thus, one of the main objectives of the United Nations in 1960 was to accelerate the freedom of colonial rule, since as a consequence many Third World nations were illiterate, overcrowded and politically unstable.

On the other hand, the term"third world"has been in use for many years, although it is considered derogatory in some circles since this word is used to refer to poor countries.

In general, Third World countries are less economically developed than First World and Second World countries. And in turn, these territories face numerous problems such as poverty, unemployment, uncontrolled population, high infant mortality rate, lack of industrialization.

The reasons for these problems are many, which is why I leave you the different theories that try to explain the underdevelopment of these countries.

Theories that explain the situation of third world countries

A priori, there are two main theories that try to explain the underdevelopment of the third world. They are the theory of modernization and dependency theory:

Theory of modernization

The theory of modernization states that underdevelopment in the third world is mainly caused by the faulty economic policies and practices of Third World nations. In this sense, Third World countries cling to traditional models of social and economic development that are not conducive to economic development.

Modernization theory asserts that Third World countries lack the initiative, capital, access to technology, and the democratic institutions necessary for economic development. In addition, the main reason for the lack of development lies in their own practices.

Broadly speaking, modernization theorists believe that the First World has a role to play in the development of the Third World although its role is limited.

According to modernization theory, traditional Third World societies do not believe in progressive improvement, they simply live as their ancestors did.

In turn, it is argued that this ideology results in economic structures of subsistence, widespread poverty and no process of improvement.

Thus, traditional societies often develop unproductive businesses and government structures where groups or individuals in a position of power stall economic development by redistributing the benefit of economic growth into their own hands.

In a nutshell, underdevelopment is simply the failure of third world societies themselves to move forward from a traditional mindset and nurture the same flame of creativity that ignited the European industrial revolution.

For this theory, Third World countries must abandon their Traditional cultural and social models In favor of Western traditions and their economic system so that they can develop.

In this way, countries that have not made the transition from traditionalism to modernity can not advance.

Theory of dependence

Dependency theory postulates that the underdevelopment of the third world is not the fault of the Third World nations themselves. Rather, this theory holds that the economic well-being of the First World is the result of the impoverishment of the Third World and that the existing world order is fundamentally stacked against its economic development.

The contemporary theory of dependence is of Marxist origin. And in particular, the concept of dependency goes back to Adam Smith , Who acknowledged that the imperialist economic practices of the European powers had denied colonized peoples the benefits of economic growth.

Dependency theory focuses more on the international economic order than on the social structure of the third world. In dependency theory, no society can be seen in isolation.

In the eyes of dependency theorists, the main failure of modernization theory is that it ignores the world order and external influences on the third world in favor of blaming the underdeveloped third world.

In dependency theory, underdevelopment is not simply a failure of Third World countries to develop, as modernization theorists would see it, but rather the result of an active process of impoverishment.

Main Third World Countries


  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cape Verde
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Conga
  • Djibouti
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gambia
  • Guinea
  • Lesotho
  • Liberia
  • Madagascar
  • Mali
  • Mauritania
  • Mozambique
  • Rwanda
  • Sao Tome
  • The prince
  • Senegal
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Zambia


  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • Lao People's Democratic Republic
  • Maldives
  • Myanmar
  • Timor-Leste
  • Yemen


  • Kiribati
  • Samoa
  • Solomon Islands
  • Vanuatu


  • Haiti


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  2. Nechifor, I. (1998). United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, CULTURE, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND THE THIRD WORLD. 3-3-2017, retrieved from unesco.org.
  3. Greene, B. (1980). Toward a Definition of the Term Third World. 3-3-2017, retrieved from wdigitalcommons.bc.edu.
  4. IAC Publishing, LLC. (2016). What are third world countries?.3-3-2017, retrieved from reference.com.
  5. WebFinance Editors. (2017). Third World Read more: businessdictionary.com.
  6. Nations Online Editors. (1998-2017). Countries of the Third World. 3-3-2017, retrieved from nationsonline.org.
  7. FinancesOnline Editors. (2011). A List of Third World Countries: 10 Poor Nations with Rising Economies. 3-3-2017, retrieved from financeonline.com.

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