The concept of
First World originated during the
Cold War and included
countries that were generally aligned with
NATO and opposed to the
Soviet Union during the Cold War. Since the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991, the definition has instead largely shifted to any
country with little political risk and a well functioning democracy,
rule of law, capitalist economy, economic stability and high standard
of living. Various ways in which modern
First World countries are
often determined include GDP, GNP, literacy rates, life expectancy,
and the Human Development Index. In common usage, as per
Merriam-Webster, "first world" now typically refers to "the highly
developed industrialized nations often considered the westernized
countries of the world".
1.1 Shifting in definitions
1.2 Other indicators
2 Three World Model
2.1 Post Cold War
3 Relationships with the other worlds
3.3 Environmental impact
3.4 International relations
3.5 Development theory
4.1 European Union
4.2 Multinational corporations
5 See also
After World War II, the world split into two large geopolitical blocs,
separating into spheres of communism and capitalism. This led to the
Cold War, during which the term
First World was often used because of
its political, social, and economic relevance. The term itself was
first introduced in the late 1940s by the United Nations. Today,
First World is slightly outdated and has no official definition,
however, it is generally thought of as the capitalist, industrial,
wealthy and developed countries. This definition includes Australia
& New Zealand, the developed countries of Asia (South Korea,
Taiwan, Japan, Singapore) and the wealthy countries of North America
and Europe, particularly Western Europe. In contemporary society,
First World is viewed as countries that have the most advanced
economies, the greatest influence, the highest standards of living,
and the greatest technology. After the Cold War, these countries of
First World included member states of NATO, U.S.-aligned states,
neutral countries that were developed and industrialized, and the
former British Colonies that were considered developed. It can be
defined succinctly as Europe, plus the richer countries of the former
British Empire (USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand),
Israel, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. According to Nations Online,
the member countries of
NATO after the
Cold War included:
Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, West Germany, Greece, Iceland,
Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey,
United Kingdom and the United States.
The Western-aligned countries included:
Israel, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand
The neutral countries included:
Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden,
Switzerland and Yugoslavia
Shifting in definitions
Since the end of the Cold War, the original definition of the term
First World is no longer necessarily applicable. There are varying
definitions of the First World, however, they follow the same idea.
John D. Daniels, past president of the Academy of International
Business, defines the
First World to be consisting of "high-income
industrial countries". Scholar and Professor George J. Bryjak
First World to be the "modern, industrial, capitalist
North America and Europe". L. Robert Kohls, former
director of training for the U.S. Information Agency and the Meridian
International Center in Washington, D.C. uses
First World and "fully
developed" as synonyms.
Varying definitions of the term
First World and the uncertainty of the
term in today's world leads to different indicators of First World
status. In 1945, the
United Nations used the terms first, second,
third, and fourth worlds to define the relative wealth of nations
(although popular use of the term fourth world did not come about
until later). There are some references towards culture in the
definition. They were defined in terms of Gross National Product
(GNP), measured in U.S. dollars, along with other socio-political
factors. The first world included the large industrialized,
democratic (free elections, etc.) nations. The second world
included modern, wealthy, industrialized nations, but they were all
under communist control. Most of the rest of the world was deemed
part of the third world, while the fourth world was considered to be
those nations whose people were living on less than US$100
annually. If we use the term to mean high-income industrialized
economies, then the
World Bank classifies countries according to their
GNI or gross national income per capita. The
World Bank separates
countries into four categories: high-income, upper-middle-income,
lower-middle-income, and low-income economies. The
First World is
considered to be countries with high-income economies. The high-income
economies are equated to mean developed and industrialized countries.
Three World Model
NATO Countries c. 2017
The terms First World, Second World, and
Third World were originally
used to divide the world's nations into three categories. The model
did not emerge to its end state all at once. The complete overthrow of
World War II
World War II status quo, known as the Cold War, left two
United States and the Soviet Union) vying for
ultimate global supremacy. They created two camps, known as blocs.
These blocs formed the basis of the concepts of the First and Second
Early in the
Cold War era,
NATO and the
Warsaw Pact were created by
United States and The Soviet Union, respectively. They were also
referred to as the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc. The
circumstances of these two blocs were so different that they were
essentially two worlds, however, they were not numbered first and
second. The onset of the
Cold War is marked by Winston
Churchill's famous "Iron Curtain" speech. In this speech,
Churchill describes the division of the West and East to be so solid
that it could be called an iron curtain.
In 1952, the French demographer
Alfred Sauvy coined the term Third
World in reference to the three estates in pre-revolutionary
France. The first two estates being the nobility and clergy and
everybody else comprising the third estate. He compared the
capitalist world (i.e., First World) to the nobility and the communist
world (i.e., Second World) to the clergy. Just as the third estate
comprised everybody else, Sauvy called the
Third World all the
countries that were not in this
Cold War division, i.e., the unaligned
and uninvolved states in the "East-West Conflict". With the
coining of the term
Third World directly, the first two groups came to
be known as the "First World" and "Second World" respectively. Here
the three-world system emerged.
However, Shuswap Chief
George Manuel believes the Three World Model to
be outdated. In his 1974 book The Fourth World: An Indian Reality, he
describes the emergence of the
Fourth World while coining the term.
The fourth world refers to "nations", e.g., cultural entities and
ethnic groups, of indigenous people who do not compose states in the
traditional sense. Rather, they live within or across state
boundaries (see First Nations). One example is the Native Americans of
North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Post Cold War
With the fall of the
Soviet Union in 1991, the Eastern Bloc ceased to
exist and with it, the perfect applicability of the term Second
World. The definitions of the First World,Second World, and Third
World changed slightly, yet generally described the same concepts.
Relationships with the other worlds
The "three worlds" of the
Cold War era, as of the period between April
1975 and August 1975.
First World: United States,
United Kingdom and their
Second World: Soviet Union, China, and their allies.
Third World: neutral and non-aligned countries.
Cold War Era, the relationships between the First World,
Second World and the
Third World were very rigid. The
First World and
Second World were at constant odds with one another via the tensions
between their two cores, the
United States and the Soviet Union,
respectively. The Cold War, by virtue of its name, was a primarily
ideological struggle between the First and Second Worlds, or more
specifically, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Multiple doctrines
and plans dominated
Cold War dynamics including the Truman Doctrine,
Marshall Plan (from the U.S) and the
Molotov Plan (from the Soviet
Union). The extent of the odds between the two worlds is
evident in Berlin—which was then split into East and West. To stop
citizens in East
Berlin from having too much exposure to the
capitalist West, the
Soviet Union put up the
Berlin Wall within the
The relationship between the
First World and the
Third World is
characterized by the very definition of the Third World. Because
countries of the
Third World were noncommittal and non-aligned with
First World and the Second World, they were targets for
recruitment. In the quest for expanding their sphere of influence, the
United States (core of the First World) tried to establish pro US
regimes in the Third World. In addition, because the Soviet Union
(core of the Second World) also wanted to expand, the Third World
often became a site for conflict.
The Domino Theory
Some examples include
Vietnam and Korea. Success lay with the First
World if at the end of the war, the country became capitalistic and
democratic, and with the Second World, if the country became
Vietnam as a whole was eventually communized, only
the northern half of
Korea remained communist. The Domino
Theory largely governed
United States policy regarding the Third World
and their rivalry with the Second World. In light of the Domino
Theory, the U.S. saw winning the proxy wars in the
Third World as a
measure of the "credibility of U.S. commitments all over the
The movement of people and information largely characterizes the
inter-world relationships in the present day. A majority of
breakthroughs and innovation originate in
Western Europe and the U.S.
and later their effects permeate globally. As judged by the Wharton
School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, most of the Top
30 Innovations of the Last 30 Years were from former First World
countries (e.g., the U.S. and countries in Western Europe).
Global distribution of malaria risk
The disparity between knowledge in the
First World as compared to the
Third World is evident in healthcare and medical advancements. Deaths
from water-related illnesses have largely been eliminated in
"wealthier nations", while they are still a "major concern in the
developing world". Widely treatable diseases in the developed
countries of the First World, malaria and tuberculosis needlessly
claim many lives in the developing countries of the Third World.
900,000 people die from malaria each year and combating malaria
accounts for 40% of health spending in many African countries.
The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)
announced that the first Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) would
be available at the summer of 2010. These include non-Latin domains
such as Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. This is one way that the flow of
information between the First and Third Worlds may become more
The movement of information and technology from the
First World to
Third World countries has created a general "aspir(ation) to
First World living standards". The
Third World has lower living
standards as compared to the First World. Information about the
comparatively higher living standards of the
First World comes through
television, commercial advertisements and foreign visitors to their
countries. This exposure causes two changes: a) living standards
Third World countries rise and b) this exposure creates hopes
and many from
Third World countries immigrate – both legally and
illegally – to these
First World countries in hopes of attaining
that living standard and prosperity. In fact, this immigration is
the "main contributor to the increasing populations of U.S. and
Europe". While these immigrations have greatly contributed to
globalization, they have also precipitated trends like brain drain and
problems with repatriation. They have also created immigration and
governmental burden problems for the countries (i.e., First World)
that people immigrate to.
Some have argued that the most important human population problem for
the world is not the high rate of population increase in certain Third
World countries, but rather the "increase in total human impact".
The per-capita impact – the resources consumed and the wastes
created by each person – is varied globally; the highest in the
First World and the lowest in the Third World: inhabitants of the
Western Europe and
Japan consume 32 times as many resources and
put out 32 times as much waste as those in the Third World.
However, China leads the world in total emissions, but its large
population skews its per-capita statistic lower than those of more
As large consumers of fossil fuels,
First World countries drew
attention to environmental pollution. The
Kyoto Protocol is a
treaty that is based on the
United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change, which was finalized in 1992 at the Earth Summit in
Rio. It proposed to place the burden of protecting the climate on
United States and other
First World countries. Countries that
were considered to be developing, such as China and India, were not
required to approve the treaty because they were more concerned that
restricting emissions would further restrain their development.
Until the recent past, little attention was paid to the interests of
Third World countries. This is because most international
relations scholars have come from the industrialized, First World
nations. As more countries have continued to become more
developed, the interests of the world have slowly started to
First World nations still have many more
universities, professors, journals, and conferences, which has made it
very difficult for
Third World countries to gain legitimacy and
respect with their new ideas and methods of looking at the world.
During the Cold War, the modernization theory and development theory
developed in Europe as a result of their economic, political, social,
and cultural response to the management of former colonial
territories. European scholars and practitioners of international
politics hoped to theorize ideas and then create policies based on
those ideas that would cause newly independent colonies to change into
politically developed sovereign nation-states. However, most of
the theorists were from the United States, and they were not
Third World countries achieving development by any
model. They wanted those countries to develop through liberal
processes of politics, economics, and socialization; that is to say,
they wanted them to follow the liberal capitalist example of a
First World state". Therefore, the modernization and
development tradition consciously originated as a (mostly U.S.)
alternative to the Marxist and neo-Marxist strategies promoted by the
Second World states" like the Soviet Union. It was used to
explain how developing
Third World states would naturally evolve into
First World States, and it was partially grounded in liberal
economic theory and a form of Talcott Parsons' sociological
The United Nations's
ESCWA has written that globalization "is a
widely-used term that can be defined in a number of different ways".
Joyce Osland from
San Jose State University
San Jose State University wrote: "
become an increasingly controversial topic, and the growing number of
protests around the world has focused more attention on the basic
assumptions of globalization and its effects." "
not new, though. For thousands of years, people—and, later,
corporations—have been buying from and selling to each other in
lands at great distances, such as through the famed
Silk Road across
Central Asia that connected China and Europe during the Middle Ages.
Likewise, for centuries, people and corporations have invested in
enterprises in other countries. In fact, many of the features of the
current wave of globalization are similar to those prevailing before
the outbreak of the
First World War in 1914."
The most prominent example of globalization in the first world is the
European Union (EU). The
European Union is an agreement in which
countries voluntarily decide to build common governmental institutions
to which they delegate some individual national sovereignty so that
decisions can be made democratically on a higher level of common
interest for Europe as a whole. The result is a union of 28 Member
States covering 4,324,782 square kilometres
(1,669,808 sq mi) with roughly half a billion people. In
European Union produces almost a third of the world’s
gross national product and the member states speak more than 23
languages. All of the
European Union countries are joined together by
a hope to promote and extend peace, democracy, cooperativeness,
stability, prosperity, and the rule of law. In a 2007 speech,
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner for External
Relations, said, "The future of the EU is linked to
globalization...the EU has a crucial role to play in making
globalization work properly...". In a 2014 speech at the European
Parliament, the Italian PM
Matteo Renzi stated, "We are the ones who
can bring civilization to globalization". With the "Brexit"
(British Exit) of the EU in 2016, the fundamental economic and
motivational powerhouse of globalization in Europe was placed, once
again, in the hands of Germany.
Just as the concept of the
First World came about as a result of World
War II, so did the European Union. In 1951 the beginnings of the
EU were founded with the creation of European Coal and Steel Community
(ECSC). From the beginning of its inception, countries in the EU were
judged by many standards, including economic ones. This is where the
relation between globalization, the EU, and
First World countries
arises. Especially during the 1990s when the EU focused on
economic policies such as the creation and circulation of the Euro,
the creation of the European Monetary Institute, and the opening of
the European Central Bank.
In 1993, at the Copenhagen European Council, the
European Union took a
decisive step towards expanding the EU, what they called the Fifth
Enlargement, agreeing that "the associated countries in Central and
Eastern Europe that so desire shall become members of the European
Union". Thus, enlargement was no longer a question of if, but when and
how. The European Council stated that accession could occur when the
prospective country is able to assume the obligations of membership,
that is that all the economic and political conditions required are
attained. Furthermore, it defined the membership criteria, which are
regarded as the Copenhagen criteria, as follows:
stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law,
human rights and respect for and protection of minorities
the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity
to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union
the ability to take on the obligations of membership including
adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union
It is clear that all these criteria are characteristics of developed
countries. Therefore, there is a direct link between globalization,
developed nations, and the European Union.
A majority of multinational corporations find their origins in First
World countries. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, multinational
corporations proliferated as more countries focused on global
trade. The series of
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
and later the
World Trade Organization
World Trade Organization (WTO) essentially ended the
protectionist measures that were dissuading global trade. The
eradication of these protectionist measures, while creating avenues
for economic interconnection, mostly benefited developed countries,
who by using their power at GATT summits, forced developing and
underdeveloped countries to open their economies to Western goods.
As the world starts to globalize, it is accompanied by criticism of
the current forms of globalization, which are feared to be overly
corporate-led. As corporations become larger and multinational, their
influence and interests go further accordingly. Being able to
influence and own most media companies, it is hard to be able to
publicly debate the notions and ideals that corporations pursue. Some
choices that corporations take to make profits can affect people all
over the world. Sometimes fatally.
The third industrial revolution is spreading from the developed world
to some, but not all, parts of the developing world. To participate in
this new global economy, developing countries must be seen as
attractive offshore production bases for multinational corporations.
To be such bases, developing countries must provide relatively
well-educated workforces, good infrastructure (electricity,
telecommunications, transportation), political stability, and a
willingness to play by market rules.
If these conditions are in place, multinational corporations will
transfer via their offshore subsidiaries or to their offshore
suppliers, the specific production technologies and market linkages
necessary to participate in the global economy. By themselves,
developing countries, even if well-educated, cannot produce at the
quality levels demanded in high-value-added industries and cannot
market what they produce even in low-value-added industries such as
textiles or shoes. Put bluntly, multinational companies possess a
variety of factors that developing countries must have if they are to
participate in the global economy.
Outsourcing, according to Grossman and Helpman, refers to the process
of "subcontracting an ever expanding set of activities, ranging from
product design to assembly, from research and development to
marketing, distribution and after-sales service". Many companies
have moved to outsourcing services in which they no longer
specifically need or have the capability of handling themselves.
This is due to considerations of what the companies can have more
control over. Whatever companies tend to not have much control
over or need to have control over will outsource activities to firms
that they consider "less competing". According to SourcingMag.com,
the process of outsourcing can take the following four phases.
evaluation and selection
Outsourcing is among some of the many reasons for increased
competition within developing countries. Aside from being a reason
for competition, many
First World countries see outsourcing, in
particular offshore outsourcing, as an opportunity for increased
income. As a consequence, the skill level of production in foreign
countries handling the outsourced services increases within the
economy; and the skill level within the domestic developing countries
can decrease. It is because of competition (including outsourcing)
that Robert Feenstra and
Gordon Hanson predict that there will be a
rise of 15–33 percent in inequality amongst these countries.
First World privilege
First World problem
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Economic classification of countries
Least Developed Countries
World Bank high-income economy
Newly industrialized country
Heavily indebted poor countries
Gross domestic product
Gross domestic product (GDP)
past and projected
power parity (PPP)
per hour worked
per person employed
Gross national income (GNI)
(Nominal, Atlas method) per capita
(PPP) per capita
Europe by monthly average wage
Employee compensation (per hour)
List of countries by median wage
Wealth per adult
Other national accounts
Gross National Happiness
Net material product
Research and development spending
Human Development Index
Human Poverty Index
Percentage living in poverty
Social Progress Index
ICT Development Index
Number of broadband Internet subscriptions
Number of Internet users
investment position (NIIP