Second World Country: Definition and Examples


The concept of “second world” countries has evolved over time from referring to former Soviet Union states to defining nations that lie between highly developed first world nations and less developed third world nations.

Understanding second world countries

The term “second world” has undergone a transformation in its meaning. Initially, it denoted countries under the influence of the Soviet Union, characterized by centrally planned economies and one-party states. This usage largely faded after the Cold War in the early 1990s.

However, the term “second world” has taken on an alternate definition, describing countries that are more developed and stable than those labeled as “third-world,” yet not as advanced as first world nations. Examples of second-world countries by this definition encompass many countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, such as Turkey, Thailand, and South Africa. Often, these nations are on the trajectory towards achieving first-world status and are referred to as “emerging markets” by investors.

It’s important to note that some countries can be considered second world under either of these two definitions.

Defining second-world countries

In the context of the first definition, notable examples of second-world countries include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, and China, among others.

Regarding the second definition, geo-strategist and London School of Economics doctorate holder Parag Khanna posits that around 100 countries fall in the middle ground, neither fully developed like first world nations (as per OECD standards) nor as underdeveloped as third world nations (least-developed countries or LDCs).

Khanna points out that within a single country, a blend of characteristics from first, second, and third-world categories can coexist. For instance, major metropolitan areas might exhibit first-world attributes, while rural regions may retain third-world traits. Even countries with significant wealth disparities, like China, exemplify this dichotomy—Beijing and Shanghai display opulence, while many non-urban regions are still in developmental stages.

Key criteria in classifying world segregation

Various criteria play a crucial role in determining a country’s classification. Indicators like unemployment rates, infant mortality rates, life expectancy, living standards, and income distribution are commonly used to assess a country’s status.

Interestingly, even within a developed nation like the United States, disparities can be observed. MIT Economist Peter Temin argues that certain areas in the U.S. exhibit characteristics akin to developing nations. He asserts that a substantial portion of the U.S. population, approximately 80%, is associated with a low-wage sector, struggling with debt and facing limited growth opportunities.

Frequently asked questions

Can a country transition between being classified as a second-world country based on different definitions?

Yes, a country’s classification as a second-world country can change based on the definition used. Depending on whether the term is interpreted in its historical context or its modern context of development, a country may be considered second world under one definition and not the other.

Are there specific economic indicators used to determine if a country falls into the category of second world?

Yes, economic indicators such as GDP per capita, unemployment rates, income distribution, and overall development are often used to assess whether a country qualifies as second world. These indicators help determine a country’s position between more developed first world nations and less developed third-world nations.

Can a country exhibit characteristics of both first and third world within its borders?

Yes, it’s possible for a country to display characteristics of both first and third world within different regions or areas. For example, major urban centers might have characteristics associated with first world countries, while rural or less developed regions could exhibit traits more commonly seen in third-world nations. This variation can even occur in wealthier countries with disparities between urban and non-urban regions.

Key takeaways

  • The term “second world” originated to refer to Soviet Union countries and communist bloc nations.
  • It has evolved to encompass countries that bridge the gap between first and third world in terms of development and economic indicators.
  • Latin and South American countries, along with Turkey, Thailand, and South Africa, fit the profile of second world countries.
View article sources
  1. Chapter 15: The Global North: Introducing the Region – Milne Library
  2. How we classify countries and people—and why it matters – PubMed
  3. How Many Citizenships Can You Have? – SuperMoney
  4. What Is a First World Country? – SuperMoney