There are controversies over this term's use, which some feel perpetuates an outdated concept of "us" and "them".
In 2015, the World Bank declared that the "developing/developed world categorization" is becoming less relevant and that they will phase out the use of that descriptor. Instead, their reports will present data aggregations for regions and income groups.
The term "Global South
" is used by some as an alternative term to developing countries.
Developing countries tend to have some characteristics in common often due to their histories or geographies. For example, with regards to health risks, they commonly have: low levels of access to safe drinking water
; energy poverty
; high levels of pollution
(e.g. air pollution
, indoor air pollution
, water pollution
); high proportion of people with tropical and infectious diseases (neglected tropical diseases
); a high number of road traffic accidents
; and generally poor infrastructure
. Often, there is also widespread poverty
, high crime
rates, low education
levels, inadequate access to family planning
services, many informal settlements
at all government levels, and political instability. Global warming
) is expected to impact developing countries more than wealthier countries, as most of them have a high "climate vulnerability
The UN acknowledges that it has "no established convention for the designation of "developed
" and "developing" countries or areas".
According to its so-called M49 standards, published in 1999:
The designations "developed" and "developing" are intended for statistical convenience and do not necessarily express a judgement about the stage reached by a particular country or area in the development process.
The UN implies that developing countries are those not on a tightly defined list of developed countries:
There is no established convention for the designation of "developed" and "developing" countries or areas in the United Nations system. In common practice, Japan in Asia, Israel in the Middle East, Canada
and the United States
in North America
and New Zealand
, and Europe
are considered "developed" regions or areas. In international trade statistics, the Southern African Customs Union
is also treated as a developed region and Israel as a developed country; countries emerging from the former Yugoslavia are treated as developing countries; and countries of eastern Europe and of the Commonwealth of Independent States [the former Soviet Union] in Europe are not included under either developed or developing regions.
Terms used to classify countries
There are several terms used to classify countries into rough levels of development. Classification of any given country differs across sources, and sometimes these classifications or the specific terminology used is considered disparaging.
By income groups
A map of World Bank high-income economies in 2019; high-income economies are indicated in blue, while former high-income economies are shown in teal.
The World Bank classifies the world's economies into four groups, based on Gross National Income
per capita, re-set each year on July 1:
- low income countries (similar to least developed countries)
- lower-middle income countries
- upper-middle income countries
- high income countries (similar to developed countries)
The three groups that are not "high income" are together referred to as "low and middle income countries" (LMICs). This classification is based on Gross National Income
(GNI) per capita (current US$) calculated using the Atlas method
The classification is updated each year on July 1.
For example in July 2019 a high income country was defined as one where the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita was more than 12,375 (in current US$); a low income country was one where the GNI per capita was less than 1,026 US$. Historical thresholds
By markets and economic growth
Use of the term "market" instead of "country" usually indicates specific focus on the characteristics of the countries' capital markets
as opposed to the overall economy.
Under other criteria, some countries are at an intermediate stage of development, or, as the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) put it, following the fall of the Soviet Union
, "countries in transition": all those of Central and Eastern Europe
(including Central European countries that still belonged to the "Eastern Europe Group" in the UN institutions); the former Soviet Union
(USSR) countries in Central Asia (Kazakhstan
); and Mongolia
. By 2009, the IMF's World Economic Outlook
classified countries as advanced, emerging, or developing, depending on "(1) per capita income level, (2) export diversification—so oil exporters that have high per capita GDP would not make the advanced classification because around 70% of its exports are oil, and (3) degree of integration into the global financial system".
Developing countries can also be categorized by geography:
By other parameters
- Heavily indebted poor countries, a definition by a program of the IMF and World Bank
- Transition economy, moving from a centrally planned to market-driven economy
- Multi-dimensional clustering system: with the understanding that different countries have different development priorities and levels of access to resources and institutional capacities and to offer a more nuanced understanding of developing countries and their characteristics, scholars have categorized them into five distinct groups based on factors such as levels of poverty and inequality, productivity and innovation, political constraints and dependence on external flows.
By self declaration
In general, the United Nations accepts any country's claim of itself being "developing". Certain countries that have become "developed" in the last 20 years by almost all economic metrics, still insist to be classified as "developing country", as it entitle them to a preferential treatment at the WTO
, countries such as Brunei
, Hong Kong
, and the United Arab Emirates
have been cited and criticized for this self-declared status.
Measure and concept of development
Development can be measured by economic or human factors. Developing countries are, in general, countries that have not achieved a significant degree of industrialization
relative to their populations, and have, in most cases, a medium to low standard of living
. There is an association between low income and high population growth.
The development of a country is measured with statistical indices such as income per capita
(per person), gross domestic product
per capita, life expectancy
, the rate of literacy, freedom index and others. The UN has developed the Human Development Index
(HDI), a compound indicator of some of the above statistics, to gauge the level of human development for countries where data is available. The UN had set Millennium Development Goals
from a blueprint developed by all of the world's countries and leading development institutions, in order to evaluate growth.
These goals ended in 2015, to be superseded by the Sustainable Development Goals
Another important indicator is the sectoral changes that have occurred since the stage of development of the country. On an average, countries with a 50% contribution from the secondary sector
) have grown substantially. Similarly countries with a tertiary sector
stronghold also see a greater rate of economic development
Criticisms and related terms
There is criticism for using the term "developing country". The term could imply inferiority of this kind of country compared with a developed country
It could assume a desire to develop along the traditional Western model of economic development
which a few countries, such as Cuba
, choose not to follow.
Alternative measurements such as gross national happiness
have been suggested as important indicators.
Worlds regions by total wealth (in trillions USD), 2018
One of the early criticism that questioned the use of the terms "developing" and "underdeveloped" countries, was voiced in 1973 by prominent historian and academic Walter Rodney
who compared the economic, social and political parameters between the United States and countries in Africa and Asia.[clarification needed]
There is "no established convention" for defining "developing country".
According to economist
and sustainable development expert Jeffrey Sachs
, the current divide between the developed
and developing world is largely a phenomenon of the 20th century.[page needed]
The late global health expert Hans Rosling
has argued against the terms, calling the concept "outdated" since the terms are used under the prerequisite that the world is divided in rich and poor countries, while the fact is that the vast majority of countries are middle-income.
Given the lack of a clear definition, sustainability expert Mathis Wackernagel
and founder of Global Footprint Network
, emphasizes that the binary labeling of countries is "neither descriptive nor explanatory".
Wackernagel and Rosling both argue that in reality, there are not two types of countries, but over 200 different countries, all faced with the same laws of nature, yet each with unique features.
The term "developing" refers to a current situation and not a changing dynamic or expected direction of development. Since the late 1990s, countries identified by the UN as developing countries tended to demonstrate higher growth rates than those in the developed countries category.
In 2015, the World Bank
declared that the "developing / developed world categorization" is becoming less relevant, due to worldwide improvements in indices such as child mortality rates, fertility rates and extreme poverty rates.
In the 2016 edition of its World Development Indicators
, the World Bank
made a decision to no longer distinguish between "developed" and "developing" countries in the presentation of its data, considering the two-category distinction outdated.
Accordingly, World Bank is phasing out use of that descriptor. Instead, the reports by Worldbank (such as the World Development Indicators
(WDI) and the Global Monitoring Report
) now include data aggregations for the whole world, for regions, and for income groups – but not for the “developing world”.
The term "Global South
" began to be used more widely since about 2004.
It can also include poorer "southern" regions of wealthy "northern" countries.
The Global South refers to these countries' "interconnected histories of colonialism
, and differential economic and social change through which large inequalities in living standards, life expectancy, and access to resources are maintained".
The term "developing countries" has many research theories associated with it (in chronological order):
Government, politics and administration
Many developing countries have only attained full self-determination
after the second half of the 20th century. Many were governed by an imperial European power until decolonization
. Political systems in developing countries are diverse, but most states had established some form of democratic governments
by the early 21st century, with varying degrees of success and political liberty
The inhabitants of developing countries were introduced to democratic systems later and more abruptly than their Northern counterparts and were sometimes targeted by governmental and non-governmental efforts to encourage participation. 'Effective citizenship
' is defined by sociologist Patrick Heller
as: "closing [the] gap between formal legal rights in the civil and political arena, and the actual capability to meaningfully practice those rights".
Beyond citizenship, the study of the politics of cross-border mobility in developing countries has also shed valuable light in migration
debates, seen as a corrective to the traditional focus on developed countries.
Some political scientists identify a 'typology of nationalizing, developmental, and neoliberal migration management regimes' across developing countries.
Worlds regions by total wealth
(in trillions USD), 2018
in the 20th century, most developing countries had dire need of new infrastructure
and economic stimulation. Many relied on foreign investment. This funding focused on improving infrastructure and industry, but led to a system of systemic exploitation.
They exported raw materials, such as rubber
, for a bargain. Companies based in the Western world
have often used the cheaper labor in developing countries for production.
The West benefited significantly from this system, but left developing countries undeveloped.
This arrangement is sometimes called neocolonialism
, meaning a system in which less-developed countries are taken advantage of by developed countries. It does not necessarily mean that former colonies are still controlled by their former colonizer; it refers to colonial-like exploitation. Developing countries are often helping further develop rich countries, rather than being developed themselves.
Several institutions have been established with the goal of putting an end to this system.
One of these institutions is the New International Economic Order
. They have a 'no-strings-attached' policy that promotes developing countries remaining or becoming self-sufficient. More specifically, they advocate sovereignty over natural resources and industrialization.
of developing nations, like the NIEO, frequently lobby for parity in the world stage. The rise of China might imply the rise of the BRIC countries
The global issues most often discussed by developing countries include globalisation
, global health governance, health, and prevention needs. This is contrasted by issues developed nations tend to address, such as innovations in science and technology.
Most developing countries have these criteria in common:
- High levels of poverty – measured based on GNI per capita averaged over three years. For example, if the GNI per capita is less than US $1,025 (as of 2018) the country is regarded as a least developed country.
- Human resource weakness (based on indicators of nutrition, health, education and adult literacy).
- Economic vulnerability (based on instability of agricultural production, instability of exports of goods and services, economic importance of non-traditional activities, merchandise export concentration, handicap of economic smallness, and the percentage of population displaced by natural disasters).
According to UN-Habitat
, around 33% of the urban population in the developing world in 2012, or about 863 million people, lived in slums
In 2012, the proportion of urban population living in slums was highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (62%), followed by South Asia (35%), Southeast Asia (31%) and East Asia (28%).:127
The UN-Habitat reports that 43% of urban population in developing countries and 78% of those in the least developed countries are slum dwellers.
Slums form and grow in different parts of the world for many different reasons. Causes include rapid rural-to-urban migration
, economic stagnation
and depression, high unemployment
, poverty, informal economy
, forced or manipulated ghettoization
, poor planning, politics, natural disasters and social conflicts
For example, as populations expand in poorer countries, rural people are moving to cities in an extensive urban migration that is resulting in the creation of slums.
In some cities, especially in countries in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, slums are not just marginalized neighborhoods holding a small population; slums are widespread, and are home to a large part of urban population. These are sometimes called "slum cities".
Violence against women
A formation of human chain at India Gate by the women from different walks of life at the launch of a National Campaign on prevention of violence against women, in New Delhi on October 02, 2009
Several forms of violence against women
are more prevalent in developing countries than in other parts of the world. For example, dowry violence
and bride burning
is associated with Bangladesh, and Nepal. Acid throwing
is also associated with these countries, as well as in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia. Honor killing
is associated with the Middle East and South Asia. Marriage by abduction
is found in Ethiopia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Abuse related to payment of bride price
(such as violence, trafficking and forced marriage) is linked to parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania.
Female genital mutilation
(FGM) is another form of violence against women which is still occurring in many developing countries. It is found mostly in Africa, and to a lesser extent in the Middle East and some other parts of Asia. Developing countries with the highest rate of women who have been cut are Somalia (with 98% of women affected), Guinea (96%), Djibouti (93%), Egypt (91%), Eritrea (89%), Mali (89%), Sierra Leone (88%), Sudan (88%), Gambia (76%), Burkina Faso (76%), and Ethiopia (74%).
Due to globalization
and immigration, FGM is spreading beyond the borders of Africa and Middle East, to countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, New Zealand, the U.S., and UK.
Percentage of Women older than 14 who have experienced violence by an intimate partner
Data from multi-country from Middle East
and North Africa
shows that men who witnessed their fathers against their mothers, and men who experienced some form of violence as children, more likely have reported perpetrating intimate partner violence in their adult relationships.
Healthcare and public health
The comparison in healthcare between developing countries and developed countries is substantially different.
People in developing countries usually have a lower life expectancy
than people in developed countries. The burden of infectious diseases, maternal mortality
, child mortality
and infant mortality
are typically substantially higher.
Percentage of population suffering from hunger, World Food Programme
Undernutrition is more common in developing countries.
Certain groups have higher rates of undernutrition, including women—in particular while pregnant or breastfeeding
—children under five years of age, and the elderly. Malnutrition in children
and stunted growth
of children is the cause for more than 200 million children under five years of age in developing countries not reaching their developmental potential.
About 165 million children were estimated to have stunted growth from malnutrition in 2013.
In some developing countries, overnutrition in the form of obesity
is beginning to present within the same communities as undernutrition.
The following list shows the further significant environmentally-related causes or conditions, as well as certain diseases with a strong environmental component: Water, sanitation, hygiene (WASH)
Access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH
) services is at very low levels in many developing countries. In 2015 the World Health Organization
(WHO) estimated that "1 in 3 people, or 2.4 billion, are still without sanitation facilities" while 663 million people still lack access to safe and clean drinking water.
The estimate in 2017 by JMP
states that 4.5 billion people currently do not have safely managed sanitation.
The majority of these people live in developing countries.
About 892 million people or 12 per cent of the global population, practiced open defecation
instead of using toilets in 2016.
Seventy-six per cent (678 million) of the 892 million people practicing open defecation in the world live in just seven countries.
Countries with a high number of people openly defecating are India (348 million), followed by Nigeria (38.1 million), Indonesia (26.4 million), Ethiopia (23.1 million), Pakistan (19.7 million), Niger (14.6 million) and Sudan (9.7 million).
In 2009, about 1.4 billion of people in the world lived without electricity. 2.7 billion relied on wood, charcoal, and dung (dry animal dung fuel
) for home energy requirements. This lack of access to modern energy technology limits income generation, blunts efforts to escape poverty, affects people's health due to indoor air pollution, and contributes to global deforestation and climate change. Small-scale renewable energy technologies and distributed energy
options, such as onsite solar power and improved cookstoves, offer rural households modern energy services.
can be particularly suitable for developing countries. In rural and remote areas, transmission and distribution of energy generated from fossil fuels
can be difficult and expensive. Producing renewable energy locally can offer a viable alternative.
Renewable energy can directly contribute to poverty alleviation
by providing the energy needed for creating businesses and employment. Renewable energy technologies can also make indirect contributions to alleviating poverty by providing energy for cooking, space heating, and lighting.
Kenya is the world leader in the number of solar power
systems installed per capita.
Factory in China at Yangtze River
Plastic Pollution in Ghana
is a major problem in many developing countries. It requires ongoing evaluation and revision of water resource policy
at all levels (international down to individual aquifers and wells). It has been suggested that water pollution is the leading worldwide cause of death and diseases,
and that it accounts for the deaths of more than 14,000 people daily.
India and China are two countries with high levels of water pollution: An estimated 580 people in India die of water pollution related illness (including waterborne diseases
) every day.
About 90 percent of the water in the cities of China
As of 2007, half a billion Chinese had no access to safe drinking water.
Further details of water pollution in several countries, including many developing countries:
Indoor air pollution
Indoor air pollution in developing nations
is a major health hazard.
A major source of indoor air pollution in developing countries is the burning of biomass
. Three billion people in developing countries across the globe rely on biomass in the form of wood, charcoal
, and crop residue
, as their domestic cooking fuel.
Because much of the cooking is carried out indoors in environments that lack proper ventilation, millions of people, primarily poor women and children face serious health risks.
Globally, 4.3 million deaths were attributed to exposure to IAP in developing countries in 2012, almost all in low and middle income countries. The South East Asian and Western Pacific regions bear most of the burden with 1.69 and 1.62 million deaths, respectively. Almost 600,000 deaths occur in Africa.
An earlier estimate from 2000 put the death toll between 1.5 million and 2 million deaths.
Finding an affordable solution to address the many effects of indoor air pollution is complex. Strategies include improving combustion, reducing smoke exposure, improving safety and reducing labor, reducing fuel costs, and addressing sustainability.
Particular vulnerability to climate change
Average global temperatures from 2010 to 2019 compared to a baseline average from 1951 to 1978. Source: NASA
Although 79% of carbon emissions is produced by developed countries,
and developing countries have not been the major cause of climate change,
they are the most at risk from the effects of these changes and may face challenges in adapting to climate change
due to the intersecting issues of high climate vulnerability, low economic status,
restricted access to technology, failing infrastructure and limited access to financial resources. Where a country is particularly vulnerable to climate change
they are called "highly climate vulnerable"
. This applies to many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, fragile states
or failed states
like Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar, and Somalia, as well as to Small Island Developing States
. In the cases where developing countries produce only small quantities of greenhouse gas emissions per capita but are very vulnerable to the negative effects of global warming, the term "forced riders" as opposed to the "free riders" has been used as a descriptor.
Such countries include Comoros, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Climate vulnerability has been quantified in the Climate Vulnerability Monitor
reports of 2010 and 2012. Climate vulnerability in developing countries occurs in four impact areas: health, extreme weather, habitat loss
, and economic stress.
A report by the Climate Vulnerability Monitor in 2012 estimated that climate change causes 400,000 deaths on average each year, mainly due to hunger and communicable diseases in developing countries.:17
These effects are most severe for the world's poorest countries. Internationally there is recognition of the mismatch between those that have caused climate change and those which will suffer the most from climate change, termed "climate justice
". It has been a topic for discussion at some of the United Nations Climate Change Conferences
Climate stress is likely to add to existing migration
patterns in developing countries and beyond but is not expected to generate entirely new flows of people.:110
A report by the World Bank
in 2018 estimated that around 143 million people in three regions (Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America) could be forced to move within their own countries to escape the slow-onset impacts of climate change. They will migrate from less viable areas with lower water availability and crop productivity
and from areas affected by rising sea level and storm surges
In spite of the cumulative stressors and challenges faced by developing countries in adapting to the effects of climate change, there are those that are world leaders in the field such as Bangladesh
. Bangladesh created a national programme in 2009 focused on how the country would adapt to climate change
(the first country to do so).
It established a fund to support these plans, spending on average $1 billion annually in this regard.
Over the last few decades, global population growth has largely been driven by developing countries, which often have higher birth rates
rate) than developed countries. According to the United Nations, family planning
can help to slow population growth and decrease poverty in these countries.
The economies of many developing nations are tried to primary products and a majority of their exports go to advanced nations. When advanced nations encounter economic downturns, they can quickly transmitted to their developing country trading partners as seen in global economic downturn of 2008–2009.
- Human Capital
- Trade Policy: Countries with more restrictive policies have not grown as fast as countries with open and less distorted trade policies.
- Investment: Investment has a positive effect on growth.
- Aid for Trade: Included in Sustainable Development Goal 8 under Target 8.a.1 Increase aid for trade is an initiative to help developing countries practice trade and benefit. Aid for trade is to assist developing countries in trade related programmes, priotise trade and trade capacity, improve trade performance and reduce poverty.
- Global partnership: A provision of Sustainable Development Goal 17 which advocates for international investment and support to achieve innovative technological development, access to market, and fair trade for developing countries.
Developing countries according to International Monetary Fund
Countries not listed by IMF
Countries and regions that are graduated developed economies
The following list, including the Four Asian Tigers
and new Eurozone
European countries, were historically considered developing countries and regions until the 1990s, and are now listed as advanced economies
(developed countries and regions) by the IMF
. Time in brackets is the time to be listed as advanced economies.
Three economies lack data before being listed as advanced economies. However because of the lack of data, it is difficult to judge whether they were advanced economies or developing economies before being listed as advanced economies.
Newly industrialized countries
Ten countries belong to the "newly industrialized country
" classification. They are countries whose economies have not yet reached a developed country's status but have, in a macroeconomic sense, outpaced their developing counterparts:
Society and culture
When looking at media coverage
of developing countries, a generalized view has developed through Western media. Negative images and coverage of the poverty
are frequent in the mass media
when talking about developing countries. This common coverage has created a dominant stereotype of developing countries as: "the 'South
' is characterized by socioeconomic
and political backwardness, measured against Western values and standards."
Mass media's role often compares the Global South to the North
and is thought to be an aid in the divide.
Mass media has also played a role in what information the people in developing countries receive. The news often covers developed countries and creates an imbalance of information flow.
The people in developing countries do not often receive coverage of the other developing countries but instead gets generous amounts of coverage about developed countries.
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