What is ‘first world’ and ‘third world’? Where did the phrases come from and is there a ‘second world’?


What is ‘first world’ and ‘third world’? Where did the phrases come from and is there a ‘second world’?

In: 13

These terms come from the cold war.

The rivalry between the US and USSR led to the bloc of countries led by each becoming very economically and culturally cut off from the other bloc.

This led to terminology in the US led bloc around these being separate “worlds.” The first world was the US and its aligned countries, the second was the USSR-led bloc, and the third were the wide swathe of countries aligned to neither.

They all came from the Cold War

First World countries were aligned with NATO. This included Western Europe (West of the German split), Australia, Canada, US, Japan, and some that would surprise you today like Turkey, Iran, and Thailand. The First World countries weren’t all rich and powerful but many of them were and they’d help their friends.

Second World countries were aligned with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact. This was eastern Europe, Russia, a lot of the Stans, China, and Cuba. Beliefs and standards of living were very different between the first and second world countries, especially later in the Cold War as the Soviet union struggled.

Then there were Third World countries that weren’t aligned with either. Today you think of Third World countries as being poor African countries but it also included places like Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, and Finland who were just trying to stay out of the tussle between neighbors.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union over 30 years ago the Second World has largely fallen out of use and Third world is often inappropriately applied to Developing countries regardless of their alignment

There was only originally the third world, and it was a term referring to nations not aligned with either side of the Cold War. There wasn’t a first world until after the term caught main stream popularity.

> The term ‘Third World’ was coined in 1952 by the French scientist Alfred Sauvy. From the start the meaning of both the phrase itself and its geographical reference have been ambiguous. Generally speaking the term has always had both a political and a socioeconomic meaning, even though at first, during the Cold War, the political sense was more widely applied. The term gained popularity quickly and it became one of the most important and expressive concepts of the 20th century. From the very beginning, however, it was strongly criticised. Its critics have pointed out many different problems, which is why some people have argued that the notion of the ‘Third World’ should be abandoned. These voices were particularly widespread after the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, the concept ‘Third World’ is still valid and it remains one of the most frequently used terms for describing the global South. The factors that made the concept of the ‘Third World’ popular are still valid.

Its like when your parents argue and you ask them what’s going on or you just wanna participate in their “activities”. Then they would say “you are a kid, you won’t/can’t understand”. They live in the first 2 worlds – Adulthood and Parenthood (there is no first or second more like they are more important). You live in the third world – Childhood which sometimes even in the context of your question is better.

If you want to read a great resource about where these terms came from and why they aren’t relevant anymore I would encourage you to pick up the book “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling. It’s an incredible read.