The term “third world” has a deep history, dating back to the Cold War when the world was divided between Western capitalism and Soviet communism. In 1952, French demographer Alfred Sauvy wrote “Three World’s, One Planet,” an article that divided countries into the three different groups we know today.
Nations such as the United States and Western Europe were designated as the first world. The Soviet Union and its allies became the second world. Finally, all the other nations became known as third world countries. Over the years, the term “third world” began to gather a negative connotation of being less developed and economically sound than the first and second world.
Furthermore, what counts as the third world is not so easy to define. B.R. Tomlinson expressed in his article, “What was the Third World?” that the term is a “convenient and rather vague label for an imprecise collection of states.”
Peter Worsely, a proponent of introducing the term into academia, confessed that “the nature of the Third World seemed so self-evident in the 1960s that in a book on The Third World I published in 1964, I saw no need to define it any more precisely than that it was the world made up of the ex-colonial, newly-independent, non-aligned countries.”
This way of defining nations has long since been outdated. The Soviet Union isn’t even a nation anymore. So, if these nations aren’t the third world, what are they? Is there a more appropriate alternative to third world?
5 Phrases to Use as an Alternative to Third World
- Developing Nations – Many argue that the term “developing nations” is a better choice. Vaibhav Bojh, a credit manager at Punjab National Bank in India says, “Being called a developing country gives me a chance to improve.” However, this term comes with its problems too. While the term developing brings about a connotation of improving conditions, it also encourages the misconception that countries with big economies such as the U.S. are not still developing themselves. In 2016, the World Bank announced, “there is no longer a distinction between developing countries…and developed countries.”
- LICs and MICs – The World Bank is now encouraging a new classification based on income data. LICs and MICs, pronounced “licks and micks,” defines nations as low-income countries and middle-income countries. For nations that don’t fit either of these definitions, there is LMIC or lower-middle-income countries.
- Majority World – The term “Majority World” is often used to remind the West that these countries outnumber them. Majority World refers to countries where most of the population resides. On the other hand, the Minority World are the nations more commonly considered “developed” where a small percentage of the earth’s population lives.
- Fat and Lean – Describing a nation as either Fat or Lean, as proposed by Dayo Olopade in his Op-Ed, looks at the value in the operations of each country. Lean nations are resource-scarce so they use what is available more efficiently. As Olopade explains, in Fat nations “plenty is normal.” Olopade illustrates the positive connotation with the term lean, stating, “Individual Africans waste less food and water, owe less money and maintain a regional carbon footprint that is the lowest in the world.”
- Global South/North – This is a term that focuses on geographical locations. The term does not perfectly group all nations together. For example, Haiti is in the global north and Australia is in the global south. However, the term avoids any negative connotation.
“Third World” is an old and demeaning term that does not truly describe nations in the modern era. In truth, trying to categorize nations will never be entirely accurate. Every nation has its own culture and way of life. However, if we must refer to them using categories, there are plenty of alternatives to use that should become a part of our vernacular. Using an appropriate alternative to “third world” can help change the way that the world views its nations.
– Maura Byrne