What Is a Third World Country?

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11168

If there are third-world countries, what are the first and second worlds? Actually, none of them exist anymore. Confused? You won't be after watching a video and interpreting world maps!



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Have you ever used the phrase third-world country in a sentence?

If you have, you have likely been misusing it. But you're not the only one!

Third-world country is one of the most commonly misused geopolitical phrases. Find out its true meaning and origin to outsmart those around you!

  • When you first saw the term third-world country, what images came to mind?
  • Was it pictures of impoverished nations and starving children?

In today's society, a third-world country is used to describe its economic status, but the true meaning of a third-world country has little to do with its developmental status.

The world was divided into categories During the Cold War (1947-1991). Democratic, capitalist countries were called first-world countries. First-world countries were those aligned with NATO.

Communist countries were referred to as second-world countries. Any country not aligned with NATO or communism, thereby not fitting into either of those categories, was referred to as a third-world country.

As you can see, the term third-world country has nothing to do with a country's developmental status. Rather, it is all about its geopolitical alliance.

Since the Cold War ended in the 1990s, first-, second-, and third-world countries are no longer relevant terms.

  • So, what should you call an impoverished nation?

Watch the video below for some clarification and ideas.

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  • What did you learn?
  • What would be the best way to describe a country based on its developmental or poverty status?
  • How will you now refer to an impoverished nation?

Continue to the Got It? section for a quick review.

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