Third World, the technologically less advanced, or developing, nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, generally characterized as poor, having economies distorted by their dependence on the export of primary products to the developed countries in return for finished products. These nations also tend to have high rates of illiteracy, disease, and population growth and unstable governments. The term Third World was originally intended to distinguish the nonaligned nations that gained independence from colonial rule beginning after World War II from the Western nations and from those that formed the former Eastern bloc, and sometimes more specifically from the United States and from the former Soviet Union (the first and second worlds, respectively). For the most part the term has not included China. Politically, the Third World emerged at the Bandung Conference (1955), which resulted in the establishment of the Nonaligned Movement. Numerically, the Third World dominates the United Nations, but the group is diverse culturally and increasingly economically, and its unity is only hypothetical. The oil-rich nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya, and the newly emerged industrial states, such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, have little in common with desperately poor nations, such as Haiti, Chad, and Afghanistan.
See A. R. Kasdan, The Third World: A New Focus for Development (1973); E. Hermassi, The Third World Reassessed (1980); H. A. Reitsma and J. M. Kleinpenning, The Third World in Perspective (1985); J. Cole, Development and Underdevelopment (1987).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.