What Are First-World Countries?

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First-world countries have robust economies, health-care systems, and living standards. Discover the history of country classifications.

 

Definition of First World

In historical terms, the term "first world" refers to the coalition of countries that allied with the US and NATO at the end of the Cold War. Following WWII, nations opposed to the Soviet Union and communism formed the Western Bloc, which the United States led.

The meaning of the term "first world" shifted after the Cold War. Today, a first-world country is defined as an industrialized or developed country with higher literacy rates, life expectancies, and GDP per capita than other countries. Advanced economies and social welfare are important factors in determining which world nations are stable enough to be classified as first-world.

 

What Are First-World Countries?

Following the Cold War, economists classified nations with a high standard of living and a high GDP as first-world countries. Countries in the modern first world are developed. This classification frequently includes specific nations in North America (the United States and Canada), central and western Europe (the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Denmark, and Belgium), Asia and Oceania (the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand), and Asia and Oceania (the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand).

 

First World vs. Second World vs. Third World Countries

The world map is divided into three worlds based on economic status, social programs, and political affiliation. Learn more about what distinguishes the various classifications:

1. First world: Historically, countries opposed to communism were labeled as first world. Today, the first world includes countries with higher GDPs, longer life expectancies, and stronger democracies than the second or third world. First-world countries include the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, and, at the lower end of the scale, Greece.

2. Second-world countries backed the Eastern Bloc and communism during the Cold War. These included the Soviet Union (modern-day Russia), China, and their allies, which included Cuba, North Korea, and Poland. Second-world countries now have weaker democratic ties and lower GDPs than first-world countries. Poland, Hungary, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua are examples of modern second-world countries.

3. Third world: In 1952, French historian Alfred Sauvy coined the term "third world" to refer to countries that were not aligned with the United States and its allies. Today, the term is contentious because it refers to underdeveloped countries, many of which are in Africa, that lack strong infrastructure and have higher rates of poverty, infant mortality, and illiteracy.

 

Characteristics of First-World Countries

First-world countries, many of which are members of the United Nations, share a set of characteristics, which include:

1. High-income households: The distribution of wealth in the domestic bank and the World Bank are additional indicators of a strong first-world country.

2. HDI (Human development index) standards: Higher HDI ratings indicate a longer life expectancy, more educational opportunities, fewer inequities, and greater access to health care.

3. Significant carbon emissions: Wealthy nations also have a significant carbon footprint due to increased production and travel, which warm the planet and contribute to climate change.

4. Strong democracies: First-world countries place a premium on strong democracies, which give citizens the right to vote and have a say in their government. In first-world countries, shared power is more important than autocratic rule.

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