Why I use the term ‘Majority world’ instead of ‘developing countries’ or ‘Third world’

Edit [August 2019] – I want clarify that I did not come up with the term ‘Majority World’. From what I understand, the term was coined and introduced by Shahidul Alam, and I would like to acknowledge and appreciate him for bringing this term into the discourse over a decade ago. You can read more from and about Shahidul Alam here (pdf), here, and here

As you may have noticed in my blog posts, I avoid using the terms ‘developing world’ or ‘Third world’. Instead, I use the term ‘Majority world’. Here’s why.

The terms ‘developing world’ and ‘Third world’ imply that ‘development’ is a standard, linear process, and that certain ‘developed’ countries have finished ‘developing’ and are the norm towards which all countries should strive. We know that this is simply not the case. There are many ways in which nations evolve over time, and all nations have strengths and challenges and are continuously evolving. Thus, the terms ‘developing world’ and ‘Third world’ seem inappropriate and incorrect.

In recognition of this, people are starting to use alternate terminology, three sets of which I will highlight here:

Majority world / Minority world: The term ‘Majority world’ highlights the fact that the majority of the world’s population lives in these parts of the world traditionally referred to as ‘developing’. The term ‘Minority world’ is similarly used to refer to those countries traditionally referred to as ‘developed’, where a minority of the world’s population resides.

Global South / Global North: These terms reflect the geographic and other divisions between countries that are generally found in the southern hemisphere of the earth – traditionally referred to as ‘developing’, and those generally found in the northern hemisphere – traditionally referred to as ‘developed’. See this Wikipedia page on the North-South divide.

WEIRD: Finally, in psychology, there is increasing recognition that most research is conducted with people from Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) countries, which are only a small and biased sample of the world’s diversity. See this Atlantic article.

I have generally preferred to use the term ‘Majority world’ because it actively counters the negative and marginalizing connotations of the terms ‘developing’ and ‘Third world’ used in the mainstream discourse.

Which terms do you prefer and why? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Sadaf Shallwani

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15 thoughts on “Why I use the term ‘Majority world’ instead of ‘developing countries’ or ‘Third world’

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  2. Thank you Sadaf for this statement about your use of Majority and Minority world. Yes, I totally agree with you and have used those terms for some years now – having learned about this from the Australian Internationalist magazine. I think we are remiss not to use them when talking about various parts of the world. Keep up the good work.

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  5. Thank you, I appreciate your helping me understand this term. I agree it’s much less condescending. I also like the acronym WEIRD

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    • Hi Anne, my apologies for responding so late. I do use these terms in some situations, with certain audiences, but I think they are limited in that (a) they focus on income as the defining factor (and income often is an important factor but not the only factor), and (b) they still suggest that ‘high-income’ is what we strive towards and ‘low-/middle-income’ are thus ‘less than’. So, I still generally prefer ‘Majority world’ vs Minority world. 🙂

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