What is a Developing Nation? - Definition & Characteristics

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

A developing nation is a nation that is less industrialized, holds less economic power, and may have a lower human development index. Learn how to define a developing nation, explore the standards and characteristics used to label a developing country, and the controversies surrounding the definition and characteristics. Updated: 10/13/2021

What Is a Developing Nation?

Do you wear Nike shoes or have an iPhone? Maybe you wear jewelry that has diamonds in it? Chances are, many of the things you wear or use on a daily basis were made in developing nations. In our globalized world, the connection between developed and developing nations is stronger and more complicated than ever before. That means we need to understand developing nations better than ever before.

After World War II, the world saw the birth of many new nations. It also saw the establishment of the United Nations, an institution focused on cooperation among countries. The richest countries began to see it as their responsibility to support new and less industrialized nations. More international organizations were established with the mission of helping richer nations send money and resources to poorer nations to help them grow and modernize.

By the 1960s, many scholars and economists began to use the term developing nation to describe these nations that had a mostly agriculturally based economy, high population growth, and high unemployment. The focus on these developing countries picked up more momentum in the year 2000, when the UN General Assembly adopted the Millennium Declaration. This included a commitment to specific development goals, like cutting in half the proportion of the world's people living on less than $1 a day by 2015.

Then, in 2001, when the planes hit the twin towers in New York, the U.S. and the world began to look at development as a matter of security. Unstable nations with dissatisfied, desperate citizens become a threat to all countries. Identifying and supporting developing nations is an important priority for the United States.

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  • 0:00 What Is a Developing Nation?
  • 1:45 Developing Nations
  • 2:30 Classification
  • 4:33 Controversy
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Developing Nations

We can think of developing nations as countries where a large portion of the people living there struggle to secure their livelihoods in conditions of great poverty.

When we say developing nation, you might think of nations like Sierra Leone in Africa, or Moldova in Eastern Europe. However, you might not think of China or Russia. In fact, some economically powerful nations like China and Russia can be considered developing nations. The line between developed and developing country can be very blurry. So, how do we decide if a nation is developed or developing? Even the main international organizations, which classify nations as developed or developing, do not have a clear answer!


It's not always clear where to draw the line between developed and developing nations, like in the case of Russia and China. These countries have extremely productive industrial bases but are still classified as developing nations because of other factors. These factors can range from economic status to quality of life. International organizations use different information and standards to make their classifications.

Money Matters

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank look primarily at economic statistics for classifying nations. They look at how strong a nation's economy is, how much money the average citizen has, and what sort of industry and resources a nation has.

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