"Third World": No Longer an Option

It seems that every day we wake up to dozens of new reports on the state of global inequality, tensions between countries, and citizens from every corner of the map feeling divided. With heightened public awareness about how to remain politically correct, many previously accepted terms are now coming into question. One of the most recent additions to the suspect list is Third World; a term that has been used to describe the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America since the Cold War period (Mic Network, 2017). In recent years there has been growing controversy on the subject; is Third World still an accurate description of countries less developed than our own?


This descriptor first originated due to the need to discuss tensions between countries of differing affluence and ideology. First World countries included the U.S., U.K., and allies, with the Second World being comprised of the Soviet Union, China and allies, and the resulting Third World a compilation of independent and developing nations. After the Soviet collapse the Second World fell off the political spectrum, and the two remaining terms were left to group together many countries without much common ground.  


I still catch the term “Third World” slipping into conversation more than I’d like to admit, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Much of humanity is largely unaware of the demeaning nature that is implied with this phrase, and more of us should consider its implicit values before using it in conversation. One significant issue is the fact that “Third World” suggests it comes last in a hierarchy of countries; with Western nations of the First World being viewed as better or further ahead. While it is undeniable that countries such as Turkey, India, and Nigeria face a variety of issues with development and corruption, this doesn’t mean they should be discussed as “less than” more developed nations. It is also problematic that so many countries are being split into two major umbrella terms. The diversity between nations grouped under the Third World category is extensive, and their cultural uniqueness is overlooked and replaced instead by a focus on their shortcomings. While the term has been useful in certain contexts throughout the past, it is more than time we replace it with an alternative.


Stuck for a replacement? There are some people who will argue about the offensiveness of any term in use these days, but there are surely better options than “Third World” no matter the situation. Some options, as suggested by Taylor & Francis Online, include emerging economy, the Global South, and developing/less developed nation. These remain value-free and speak to a country’s economy or geography rather than its imagined hierarchy. Next time you catch yourself speaking of the Third World, swapping this term out for a more neutral option is the better bet.



Aleem, Zeeshan. “Why You Shouldn't Call Poor Nations 'Third World Countries'.” Mic, Mic Network Inc., 5 Jan. 2015

Randall, Vicky. “Using and abusing the concept of the Third World: geopolitics and the comparative political study of development and underdevelopment.” Taylor & Francis, Third World Quarterly, 27 May 2008​