What Is A Developing Country?

Improved access to educational opportunities and technology is integral to economic progress in the developing world.

The most widely accepted definition of a developing country is one that has low levels of industrialization and fares poorly on the Human Development Index (HDI). A low HDI score means that the citizens of a particular country have lower life expectancy, lower educational attainment, lower per capita incomes, and higher fertility rates than found in other countries. Most countries in Africa, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, and Central America are generally regarded as developing.

Measuring Development

As previously mentioned, there are several indicators that help measure the level of development in any given country. The International Monetary Fund measures development by considering per capita income, export diversification, and involvement in the global financial market. The idea behind export diversification is that the more diversified the goods are going out of the country, the less risk the economy has of suffering a crisis should one of those goods lose value or demand. Other organizations, such as the World Bank, define a country as developing when the annual per capita income is below $12,275.

The measure of development is consistently linked to industrialization and standards of living, with low income levels and high population growth rates playing key factors. To address and encourage development, several varying academic theories exist. Some theories suggest that investing in human development would lead to more productivity and, in turn, an improving economy. Others argue that investing in jobs and infrastructure would have a more direct impact and result in improved qualities of life.

Stages of Development

Within developing economies, there are specific levels that help to define where a country stands on the development range. The most common of these classifications include newly industrialized countries (NIC), emerging markets, frontier markets, and least developed countries.

A newly industrialized country has not yet reached “developed” status, but is advancing at a faster rate than its less developed counterparts. This usually occurs as a result of switching from an agricultural-based economy to a manufacturing economy. South Africa, Brazil, and China are all considered NIC’s. An emerging market is another term for this type of development.

The term frontier market is used to describe a country that has not yet reached newly industrialized or emerging market status. These are smaller markets that are still considered worthy of investment for high return over a long period of time. Some countries on this list include Vietnam, Argentina, and Bulgaria.

Least developed countries are those which have the lowest levels of socioeconomic development. They are characterized by high levels of poverty and economic vulnerability. Places such as Angola, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Haiti are considered to be "least developed" countries.

Common Challenges in Developing Countries

Just as developing countries share several common indicators of development, they also share many of the same challenges to their development. Some of these challenges include issues of health. Developing countries are more prone to experiencing exponentially high population growth in urban areas, little or no access to safe drinking water, high instances of non-communicable diseases including diabetes and high blood pressure, and environmental health hazards such as air pollution.

Criticisms of the Term

Although speaking of developed and developing countries is a widely used practice, it is also widely criticized. Many people believe the term denotes inferiority and a feeling of “not good enough”. The term uses the western world as the measure of comparison and incorrectly assumes that all countries and their citizens have a desire to imitate western lifestyles. Some critics have suggested that a better alternative would be terminology that focuses on the happiness of a country’s residents rather than their level of wealth, such as “gross national happiness”.


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