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 this video and interpreting these world maps!



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

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Have you ever used the phrase "third world country" in a sentence? If you have, you have likely been using it incorrectly. But, you're not the only one! "Third world country" is one of the most commonly misused geopolitical phrases. Let's find out its true meaning and origin, so that you can outsmart those around you!

When you first saw the term "Third World Country," what images came to your mind?

Was it pictures of impoverished nations and starving children? In today's society, "third world country" is used to describe the economic status of a country, but the true meaning of "third world country" has little to do with its developmental status.

During the Cold War (1947-1991), the world was mostly split into categories. Democratic, capitalist countries were referred to as "first world countries." First world countries were those aligned with NATO. Communist countries were referred to as "second world countries." Any country that was 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 a country's 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 What Does 'Third World Country' Mean? (Seeker Daily) for some ideas:


After you watch the video, discuss with your teacher or parent what is the best way to describe a country based on its developmental or poverty status.

  • How will you now refer to an impoverished nation?

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

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