Notre Dame Academy

Third World vs. Developing country– Why neither term is right

Whether you use “Third World” or “Developing” to describe a certain country, both terms mean the same thing: poor.

But it didn’t always mean that. During World War I, First World was used to refer to the Allied powers, while Second World described the Axis powers, and Third World was the name assigned to remaining nations who aligned with neither group. The majority of Third World countries happened to be impoverished, so the term came to mean poor world.

The classifications are insulting and outdated. The first, second, and third place rankings usually used in competition being applied to countries reinforce the idea of superiority between them. The richest countries are the very best while the poorer countries are losing the race to utopia. Furthermore, World War I ended a long time ago, so the alignment terms are obsolete.

So a solution was posed when the terms “Developed” and “Developing” countries were introduced. The meanings of these terms also boil down to “rich” and “poor.” Developed countries already have a stable educational and health care systems, and easy access to electricity, the internet, and water. Developing countries don’t.

People prefer to use “developing countries” because it opens a door to the hope that these impoverished countries will one day achieve the success of their developed counter parts. However, this term also comes with a few negative implications.

A few developing countries are the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. Theses countries, along with the majority of developing countries, are considered eastern civilizations. Likewise, developed countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada are pegged as Western civilizations.  By continuing to refer to Western civilization as developed and therefore superior, Western society counties to be idealized. It presents the idea that developed western countries are fully evolved and civilized, while developing countries are backwards and uncivilized.

It doesn’t seem like either term is exactly correct. One is too outdated and the other is too Western-centric. So what should we call our impoverished countries? Exactly that. Impoverished, low-income, and underprivileged are better terms to use when referring to poorer countries. None of these words refer back to other countries as a standard or to allude to superiority as directly as the terms “Third World” or “Developing”. Until someone comes up with a better phrase, using any of these will get your point across.


  • Reply Harambe August 22, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    GREAT ARTICLE and something that’s been bothering me for a while too


  • Reply Memequeen August 22, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    I agree with Harambe. Your article really shows a lesser known perspective on this issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Reply Erica Bentley August 23, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    I never knew where these terms came from and how offensive these might seem to those eastern civilizations. You’re doing great things. Good work!


  • Reply Therese Martin Portman September 1, 2016 at 10:43 am

    I like your article. I think it is accurate and insightful!


  • Reply First Gen Immigrant April 12, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    Having lived in both worlds, I would say the term is very subjective. I lived in one of the small towns in the US for graduate school and I can compare what my life has been back in the Philippines. I can totally say that some parts of the US are more outdated than the metropolitan areas in countries like Philippines. It really depends on what your role is in the society and where you re geographically in that particular country.


  • Reply lucas April 20, 2017 at 11:50 am

    great article


  • Reply Julian April 20, 2017 at 11:51 am



  • Reply Sheila Love June 7, 2017 at 9:24 am

    “Developing” VS “Developed” doesn’t necessarily mean “Rich” VS “Poor”. We’ve more evolved as a species in certain parts of the world and “Developing” countries aren’t at the same level as we are as far as technology, healthcare, etc.These other countries in which we refer to as “Developing” aren’t thriving in the same way as we are, hence the label. Labels aren’t always set in order to offend, and this one in particular is to categorize where each country is at as far as the species is concerned.

    I do agree that the terms aren’t *exactly* correct as we are constantly evolving and changing. We are at a point to where we are independent as a country which is why we are referred to as developed.


  • Reply Atziri October 18, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    I never quite thought about that until now…great article and excellent topic to touch upon!


  • Reply Tony March 29, 2018 at 3:13 am

    A well written article that clears up a lot of unexplained phrases.. I find it very interesting that the countries with the highest level of natural resources are the countries considered impoverished !!
    The politics of these negative titles cannot be overlooked and as the so called 1st and 2nd worlds continue to make billions from the 3rd world countries, these naturally rich and resourceful countries remain impoverished 😶

    Liked by 1 person

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