You’re pretty much aware of people saying “first world” or “third world,” and we’re sure you’re probably living in a country labelled as either of ‘em. But what does this mean anyway, when did this even start, and how on Earth does a country fit to be first world or third world? Lot of questions, huh? That’s why we’re here.
This is global stratification: categorizing nations in respect of their level of economic development. When we say first world, we see a developed country, and third world means, well, not so much. However, these terms are outdated and dates back to the Cold War, when policymakers described the world as three distinct political and economic blocs: Western Capitalist countries were labelled as “first world” (including the US, UK, and much of western Europe); Socialist and Communist countries were labelled as “second world” (including the Soviet Union and it’s allies); and the rest were labelled as “third world.”
Shortly after the Cold War, the second world eventually became obsolete, and first and third world stuck around for decades. Nowadays, stratifying countries like this is not fair at all, considering how diverse the global economy is in most developing countries, sociologist now sort countries in terms of their economic productivity. Countries are now stratified based on their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — that’s the total output of a nation, and Gross National Income (GNI) — that’s GDP per capita. Here are the four levels of global stratification.
Related media: Global Stratification & Poverty: Crash Course Sociology #27
#1. High Income Earning Countries
These countries have an average GNI above $12,500 per annum. There are 79 countries in this category — including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Chile of all Latin American countries, Singapore and more. In these countries, standards of living are high than much of the rest of the world. These countries are also highly urbanized, with 81 percent of inhabitants living in cities, with much of the world’s industry’s based in these countries. For instance, 60 percent of people in low income countries own cellphones, but for every 100 cellphone users in high income countries, there are 124 cellphone plans as well.
#2. Upper-Middle Income Earning Countries
These countries have an average GNI between $4,000 and $12,500 per annum. There are 56 countries in this category which tend to have advancing economies with both manufacturing and high tech markets — including countries such as South Africa, China, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, and more. These countries are highly urbanized with good public infrastructure like access to schools and hospitals; and better standards of living for most citizens. For instance, standards of living in upper-middle income countries is relatively fair that its somewhat comparable with that of the high income countries.
#3. Lower-Middle Income Earning Countries
These countries have an average GNI between $1,000 and $4,000 per annum. There are 53 countries in this category which tend to have the economy based on manufacturing and natural resource production — including countries such as India, Guatemala, Ghana, Ukraine, and others. There are about 40 percent of inhabitants living in urban areas, with access to education and healthcare limited to the elite in society. For instance, the maternal mortality rate in lower-middle income countries is five times higher than in upper-middle income countries, with a third of children under five years being malnourished.
#4. Low Income Earning Countries
These countries have an average GNI less than $1,000 per annum. There are 31 countries in this category which are primarily rural with much of their economies mainly based on agriculture, and most inhabitants being farmers or laborers. These countries include Afghanistan, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and others. Most of these countries are facing income poverty as well as poor standards of living in terms of access to education, healthcare, and a lack of social amenities. For instance, eight percent of children die before age five, and more than a third of older ones never get to complete primary education.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Thu, Nov 26, 2020.