Third World vs First World Countries - What's The Difference?

Third World vs First World Countries - What's The Difference?

According to the United Nations, it no longer judges a country by a particular stage that it is at in its development. Nonetheless, countries are ranked higher in terms of the comforts and opportunities afforded to its citizens. We now call this the Human Development Index. Back in the day, we would judge a country by its stage of industrialization, and the first developed country in this sense was the UK. Belgium followed, then Germany, then the USA, and then France and other western European nations. If we look at today’s Human Development Index, the top ten countries in order are: Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Singapore, the Netherlands, Ireland, Iceland, Canada, and 10th, believe it or not, is the USA. The UK, which was once in first place, now stands in 16th place. Today we’ll look at why, in this episode of the Infographics Show, 3rd World vs 1st World Countries - What's The Difference?

First of all, many people think we should stop using these terms of first and third world. The terms are seen as insulting and vague, and while some nations might not be economic powerhouses, what’s to say the citizens don’t live a happy and safe life, even without a Big Mac and fries? If we go back some years to 1952, a French demographer Alfred Sauvy wrote about “Three worlds, one planet.” It is he who is said to have coined the term. By first world, he meant the USA, Japan, South Korea and Western Europe. By second world, he meant the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and communist allies. At the bottom, in the third world, he meant all the rest, societies that were mostly agrarian and poor. One of the reasons the term is decried is because it was so vague. There wasn’t really much analysis, and so in spite of northern Brits living in industrial slums and working in inhumane conditions as George Orwell wrote in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, because of Britain’s relative wealth, it was deemed first world. In fact, these days a professor at Harvard Medical School has used the term ‘Fourth World’, which includes the USA. This means a country of great wealth where some parts of society live on the fringes, jobless, often drug-addicted, with no healthcare and not so many opportunities to change things around. They are living in a first world with third world standards.

So, this is a rather confusing question we have posed.

Do we use the term developing? We can look at what has happened over many parts of Asia in the last twenty years. While parts of China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand still have pervasive abject poverty, there is a lot more money. It isn’t exactly getting to everyone, though, and one might ask if farming rice in China was any worse than making iPhone components for hours on end in a factory in a polluted city. But with this new money, infrastructure has improved, and so too has healthcare and education. We could say these countries are verily developing. But why is Norway the most developed? Is it still not developing? Does developed mean stasis? Not really, all countries are still developing, but others could be said to be going through major changes.

The U.S. Department of State explains why Norway is so developed: “Per capita GDP is among the highest in the world,” we are told, due to thriving industries in this nation of just 5.2 million people. Just take into account that Delhi has 18.6 million people. You only need to walk around Delhi to see poverty all around you, you don’t have to go looking for it. India is developing due to its fairly amazing economic growth, but still, it was reported in 2014 that 58% of the Indian population were living on less than $3.10 per day. India puts the poverty line at $1.90 a day. This may be enough not to starve to death, but we can imagine that those people living on that amount don’t have the freedom and opportunities that Norway’s less well-to-do people have. In fact, in Norway, the average income is more than $35,000 a year. Only 3 percent of the population work very long hours, and all Norwegians, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, can expect good, “environment quality, jobs and earnings, income and wealth, education and skills, housing, work-life balance, civic engagement, social connections, and health status.” The same definitely cannot be said of any developing nation. Nonetheless, anyone in India will tell you about great transformations, more job opportunities, an easing of poverty, and how far the country has come in terms of developing technology.

Norway is top of the Human Development Index, so we could say this is the first of the first world countries, even though we don’t use that term anymore. The top 51 nations fall in the ‘High’ Human Development bracket. Out of 188 countries, India comes in at 131st. Indeed, India’s super rich wealth and massive growth has yet to trickle down to many of the masses. The HDI has three main categories: Environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social sustainability.

Right at the bottom of the HDI is the Central African Republic. Again, while we don’t use the term third world anymore, you could say that this might be the bottom of the list in so far as we have a term for not being developed. Why is that? For starters, life expectancy there is only 52, or thereabouts. It is tied with Angola, and only better than one country, which is Sierra Leone. People there can expect to live to 50.1. By comparison, Norwegians on average can expect to live about 30 years longer. In India, the life expectancy is 68, somewhere in the middle.

The 4.6 million people living in the Central African Republic have faced extreme poverty, war, ethnic and religious cleansing, and political violence. It’s said to be the worst place in the world to be young, and even if you get a job, the average wage per year is said to be $400, although this might need updating. Half of the population is illiterate, and if you go to school you might not do more than 4 or 5 years. It has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, and about a quarter of the women have undergone genital mutilation. If that isn’t bad enough, human rights hardly exist. Complain, and you might find yourself being arrested summarily and sent to a terrible jail. Corruption is rife, and there is not much anyone can do. The country has a history of labor rights violations as well as child labor. Children and women regularly face violence after being accused of being witches. One travel blogger talked of his experience in the capital of Bangui, saying it was “a mess that is always teetering on the edge of violence.”

We are of course mentioning the very worse things, and no doubt a lot of people live a happy life there. We just want to outline a kind of first, second and third comparison. That’s why we have picked these three nations.

We could also look at the country of Botswana, which comes in 108th place. This is quite low, but if you’ve read Malcom Gladwell’s book, ‘Outliers’, you’ll know it's home to possibly some of the happiest, laidback, self-sufficient people in the world. Or was, until recent times. According to Gladwell, they have a two hour work day on average, and play around most of the time. They don’t need iPhones or dinner sets made by Hermes. They are the last Hunter/Gatherer tribe called the ǃKung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. These wanderers also moved through Angola (which is placed 150th on the HDI). Unfortunately, what they hunt and gather is being destroyed by development. Anthropologists say they get over conflicts in peaceful ways and generally are a happy lot. They provide for their kids with devotion, and remain mostly monogamous. Wealth is shared with everyone. In more recent years, that has changed as some were forced to settle in one place, and that’s when the problems arose. As soon as they got doors, they started shutting them and sharing less. They are also very much third world by western standards.

So, are they any worse off than an overworked, overweight, diabetes and hypertension suffering rich first world man that takes pills to sleep and often drinks to oblivion? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called What Can You Buy with a Million Dollars?! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

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