What are First, Second, and Third World Countries?

A first world nation was originally defined as a nation that has a complex capitalist economy and has become completely industrialized. However, first world nations are now characterized by their advanced economies, influence on national affairs, high standards of living, as well as their advanced technology. A second world nation was originally any nation that sided with the Soviet states. Now the term second world nation has lost any use. Either the economy and government of a country classify it as a first or third world country. A third world country was originally defined as the countries who did not take sides in any of the world wars, or the cold war. It has now come to mean a country who’s government or economy has not developed enough to be called a first world nation.


Globalization: First, Second, and Third World Nations
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Globalization: First, Second, and Third World Nations


First world nations are those that have advanced capitalist economies and are fully industrialized. Originally, this term came about for different reasons. This term came into being after World War II. The major powers of the world split into two large groups, or blocs, and they were defined by their allegiance to either of the two great powers that were vying to dominate the global economy.


Those were the United States and the Soviet Union. They were defined by their allegiance to the United States and capitalism, which is what the United States was practicing. The United States and the nations that aligned with them were known as the Western bloc. Or they were defined by their allegiance to the Soviet Union and communism, which is what the Soviet Union and its following countries practiced.


Those were known as the Eastern bloc. Now, the members of the Western bloc, which were most of the countries of North America, Western Europe, Australia, and Japan, were referred to as first world nations. This definition is now outdated. This lets you know when this term came into use. It was after World War II. The United States and the Soviet Union were both vying for world domination. They both wanted to be the dominant power in the world, and the different countries aligned with them based on how their allegiances had been during World War II.


A lot of the Western European countries, plus Australia and Japan, even though they hadn’t been on the same side as the United States during World War II, all sided with the United States in a capitalist economy, forming the Western bloc. The Soviet Union, a lot of the Eastern European countries, and other nations that were practicing communism sided with the Soviet Union and became became known as the Eastern bloc.


Those nations in the Western bloc became known as first world nations and those that were part of the Eastern Bloc became known as second world nations. That was how they determined first world vs second world. It was based on what group they aligned themselves with. Originally, it didn’t have as much to do with how advanced your economy was or how industrialized you were. It did have to do with your economy, because the Western bloc was primarily practicing capitalism and Eastern Bloc was primarily practicing communism.


In modern culture, the first role is viewed as countries that have the most advanced economies (we are still looking at that), the greatest influence in international affairs, (if you have a stronger economy you’re going to have more pull in international affairs, more influence), the highest standards of living (if you’re able to trade internationally, you probably are going to be bringing in more money into your country and your people are going to have a higher standard of living), and the greatest technology.


Hopefully, in most cases, these nations are also going to be putting a lot into education and they’re going to be placing a lot of emphasis on technology and advancement in technology. These are characteristics you see in first world nations in modern culture. As we talked about, the former Soviet states and those that sided with them, the Eastern Bloc, were classified as second world nations. They were simply known as the second world nations, because they sided with the Soviet Union.


They were going to practice Communism and they were known as the Eastern bloc. That group became known as second world nations. This referred to countries that were slowly developing capitalist economies after having inefficient socialist economies for so long. This was primarily referring to the time after the Cold War after the disbandment of the Soviet Union. Once the Soviet Union disbanded and a lot of the countries that were a part of it or the states that were part of it declared their independence, all of these countries started trying to repair their economies.


Russia started trying to repair their economy. Originally, the name, or the classification of second world nations, came from them being a part of the Eastern bloc. Once the Eastern bloc and Western Bloc were dissolved and countries weren’t at each other that way with the Cold War, it wasn’t Western bloc vs Eastern bloc anymore, it wasn’t United States vs Soviet Union anymore, the Cold War was done, these countries still had to recover because they’d still kind of been economically depressed, having been in this socialistic economic state for so long.


Even after the Cold War, second world nations were going to be those that were developing their capitalist economies after having these inefficient socialist economies for a long time. This term has fallen out of general use as these nations have slowly become more similar to first world nations. Once the Soviet Union was disbanded, once these countries did start developing, they became more similar to first world nations. A lot of the nations that were second world nations are now more like first world nations.


There are still a handful that didn’t really jump on developing their economies and may be more similar to third world nations. Let’s look at those. Those nations that did not align with either bloc, either big group of countries, after World War II, or those that didn’t fit into either definition simply became known as third world nations. If they weren’t necessarily practicing capitalism or communism, if they didn’t have some organized government, if they were still more tribal, if they weren’t really connected with the world, or they just remain neutral, they were considered third world nations.


Some that had just remained neutral but had strong governments and strong economies have now become first world nations, or are classified as first world nations, because they do have those advanced economies, influence in international affairs, high standard of living, and great technology. Those that were impoverished, those that didn’t have organized government, those that may have still been more tribal, more rural, not really an organized country in any way, those places are still probably going to be considered as third world nations.


This included the relatively poor and non-industrialized nations of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, most of which were colonized or involved in other exploitative trade arrangements with the Western empires at one time. One of the reasons some of these countries were going to be poor and non-industrialized were because they had been colonies to some of these stronger western empires. If they were a colony, those western empires were taking all of the goods out of their country.


They were making money off of them but not putting any of that money back into the colony nation. That nation wasn’t going to get to grow economically and wasn’t going to get to become wealthier, because all of their valuable resources were being taken and put into the economy of the Western power that was holding that colony. You had that problem for some of them. Maybe they were involved in some other exploitative trade arrangement.


If they were being forced to trade and were getting a bad deal on it, then they weren’t going to be able to grow that well either. If they were having to pay great taxes to import goods or to export goods, then they were going to be on the bad end of an exploitative trade arrangement. Some of these nations are still third world nations, because they were kind of pushed back by the Western empires that colonized them or gave them these bad trade arrangements.


They weren’t able to grow economically like the Western empires and the Western nations were able to do. If they’re non-industrialized, the industrial revolution was something that really put people forward. It really helped them create urban centers. It helped develop different ways of manufacturing. It came up with factories, with the assembly line method of production. Things were able to be produced more efficiently and cheaply, and people flocked to these urban centers.


That really helped develop the economy in those nations as they became industrialized. Having these nations that aren’t industrialized, that are still poor, that are still kind of held back because of their rough start having been colonies or being on the bad end of a trade arrangement, or maybe they just haven’t had a lot of contacts globally if it’s a very rural or set off in the middle of nowhere kind of community, then they may not be interconnected globally.


They haven’t been able to grow and be considered a first world nation. It will take a long time for some small country that is really more tribal and doesn’t have a central government or doesn’t have a centralized economy. If they don’t have any of that, they’re probably not going to become a first world nation very easily. They will say a third world nation until they can become industrialized and develop their economy and their government.


Although these nations are far more numerous than those of the first or second world (that means there are way more of the third world nations than there are of the first and second world nations), they wield much less political power. Of course, that makes sense, because you’ve got these rich countries with advanced economies, advanced technology, advanced communication, all talking together and wielding their influence in these international affairs.


They’re going to have more political pull than the third world nations that don’t have any kind of centralized organized government or economy. They don’t have a way to talk to the rest of the world. If they do, they’re still stuck so behind economically that, without being able to bring something to the table economically, they won’t be taken as seriously or as much of a threat as one of the first world nations might be. You can see how the first, second, and third world nations originally came to be, how those classifications came about after World War II, and you should have a clear understanding of what they mean in modern culture.



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Last updated: 07/11/2018
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