The map above shows the First (Blue), Second (Yellow) and Third (Red) Worlds based on their Human Development Index (HDI) score.
“The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent standard of living.”
These are further defined as:
- A long and healthy life: Life expectancy at birth
- Being knowledgeable: Mean years of schooling and Expected years of schooling
- A decent standard of living: GNI per capita (PPP US$)
Data for the map came from Wikipedia and the United Nations. For the purpose of this map, countries in the top third are First world countries, countries in the middle third are Second world countries and countries in the bottom third are Third world countries.
While interesting, these rankings should not be taken too seriously. The concept of First, Second and Third worlds developed out of the Cold War.
The First World was basically the United States and her allies. This included richer countries such as those in Western Europe and Japan, but could also include less developed countries, such as South Africa and the Philippines.
The Second World was the Soviet Union and her allies. However, while all members of the second world were communist, not all communist countries were part of the second world. Yugoslavia, broke with the Soviet Union early on and was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Finally, the Third World originally simply referred to countries that had not formally aligned with one of the two super powers. While most of the countries in the third world were less developed, it could also be used to refer to very prosperous countries that remained neutral during the cold war such as Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Finland and Ireland – although it was rarely if ever used to refer to these countries.
Interestingly, more than two decades after the end of the Cold War many, but by no means all, of the divisions still remain on the map.
The US, Japan and Korea are all there. However, the part of Europe that could be considered First World has shifted east with the Baltic states, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary now shifting from Second world to First world countries.
China and Russia remain Second world countries, because this is based on per capita income, not absolute economic size.
Finally, while many of the countries of the Third World remain less developed than the First World, many of these economies are growing the fastest and may soon catch-up with the rest.
You can learn more about the international development in general from the following books:
- The Age of Sustainable Development
- Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
- Capital in the Twenty-First Century
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