Is Thailand A Third World Country? The Complicated Question Answered

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The term “third world” gets thrown around a lot when describing countries, but most people don’t really understand what it means. If you’re asking; is Thailand a third world country, you first need to understand what it means to be considered “third world.”

This is where it gets complicated, as the definition has changed over the years, with some seeing it as an economic term and some seeing it as more political.

This can make defining a third world country difficult, as it’s largely down to personal interpretation of the definition of third world.

In this guide, we seek to uncover whether Thailand is a third world country and what that actually means…

What Does it mean To Be A Third World Country?

The first time the world heard the term “Third World” was during the Cold War, to define countries that were not-aligned with NATO or Warsaw Pact.

In its beginning, the term had nothing to do with finance or economic status, and was purely to define countries who did not pick a faction during the Cold War.

At the time the term was coined, those in favor of NATO such as USA and Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Western Europe countries, were considered to be of the “First World.”

The meaning has become somewhat skewed over the years, and later went on to be used to describe countries who have suffered colonialism, such as Africa, Latin America Countries, Australia and parts of Asia.

Dependency theory scholars, Raúl Prebisch, Walter Rodney, Theotônio dos Santos, and Andre Gunder Frank adapted the term again, moving far beyond just colonialism but to describe countries who have been dominated by other countries, and therefore compromising their economy.

Today, the most popular stereotype is that a Third World country is one with poor economic status or is unindustrialized.

A classroom in a developing country

It is an archaic term and is not often used today. In the 1990s, it was rewritten as “developing countries,” which has more positive connotations and is deemed more politically correct.

Even when referring to countries as Third World or ‘Developing’ it’s hard to categorize, as there are many factors that come into play, and some countries who were historically poor, have turned their financial status around.

Countries like Australia, which was originally considered Third World because of the political standpoint during the Cold War and its influence by colonialism, has a strong economy today, so is therefore not considered Third World.

Regardless of how you define ‘Third World’ it’s important to know that the term is no longer serves a purpose, and it’s much better to refer to countries as ‘developing’ or ‘least developed.’

Is Thailand a Third World Country?

In the case of Thailand, it’s not considered a Third World country. While it doesn’t have the income that Western European countries of the United States do, it has made large social and economical progress over the years.

Today, Thailand is known as an upper-middle income country by the banks. It has seen a rapid decrease in poverty, from 58% in poverty in 1990 to just 6.8% in 2020, as well as made improvements in healthcare and education over the years.

In 2023, Thailand has seen an increase in employment status by 1.2%, and the infant mortality rate has also dropped by 3.15% in 2023 compared to 2022.

Overall, there are many factors that determine a countries economic status, from employment, healthcare, retirement plans, education, poverty rating, income rating, and even by natural disasters, which Thailand is well prepared for.

On the whole, Thailand’s economy continues to grow in a positive way and is not considered a developing country.

Is Thailand a rich or Poor Country?

poverty in Thailand
People living in poverty in Thailand

While Thailand’s economy is growing, many wonder about its financial status because it’s still a very cheap country to visit.

Thailand has the second strongest economy in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia, and is not considered a poor country on the whole.

Determining whether a country is rich or poor is not an easy question to answer, but if you look at the poverty rating, Thailand has dropped its poverty rating by more than half in 15 years, and now has a very low poverty rating.

While there are still some Thai people living in poverty, the majority of Thai people live comfortable lives.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, Thailand is not a third world country and is not considered a poor country either.

The term Third World is no longer in use, with people choosing to refer to the more politically correct term ‘developing countries’ instead.

We hope this guide gave you a better understanding of Thailand’s economic status and why it’s not a developing country.

And before you go, here are some other frequently asked questions about Thailand answered:

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