The term “Third World Country” is often used in the context of developing nations. It is mistakenly used to refer to impoverished countries. The term finds its origin in a reference to the geopolitical environment dating back to the Cold War Era. Following World War II, the USA and the USSR found themselves polarized in a tension fraught situation – a conflict of political interests that was fought by seeking the alliance of other nations. The countries that did not align with either the US or the USSR at the time were referred to as Third World countries. These were, generally speaking, countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. This is perhaps the reason why the term “third world country” continues to be used well after the Cold War and is a casual reference to a developing nation.
In the era following World War II, the USA and the USSR emerged as the two major global influencers. Two geological blocs thus emerged with opposing views precipitating a crisis that is called the Cold War. Most of the highly industrialized democratic countries of the western world sided with the US. These include the NATO allies of the US. This bloc is generally referred to as the “First World” or the Western Bloc. The Eastern Bloc consisted of countries that subscribed to the communist and socialist ideologies and were largely influenced by the Soviet world view. These were collectively referred to as the “Second World”. The “Third World” then came to be a term used for all the countries that could not be placed in either of the two blocs. These countries were home to over three quarters of the world’s population. It is not clear who first came to use the term, though it is popularly accepted that either Charles de Gaulle or Alfred Sauvy may have coined the terminology.
In modern times, “Third World Countries” is used to mean countries that are less developed, where industrialization and growth are occurring in a slow pace, where healthcare, education, and infrastructure are poor but population is high.
At times the term “Fourth World” is also used albeit sparingly. It refers to communities or sub-populations that live in First World developed nations but with living conditions that represent the Third World countries.