Concept of worlds within world | The Socio-Economical Stratification

When people talk about the poorest or underdeveloped countries of the world, they often refer to them with the general term Third World, and they think everybody knows what they are talking about. But when you ask them if there is a Third World, what about a Second or a First World, you almost always get an evasive answer. Other people even try to use the terms as a ranking scheme for the state of development of countries, with the First World on top, followed by the Second World and so on, that's perfect - nonsense.

The terms First, Second, and Third World is a rough, and it's safe to say, outdated model of the geopolitical world from the time of the cold war.

Definition of the First, Second, and Third World

Four Worlds

After the Second World War, the world split into two major geopolitical blocs and spheres of influence with conflicting political views about government and the right society.

First World

The bloc of democratic-industrialized countries within the American sphere of influence, the "First World," also known as The West.

Second World

The Eastern bloc of the communist-socialist states, where the political and economic power should come from the up to now oppressed peasants and workers.

Third World

The remaining three-quarters of the world population, countries that did not belong to either bloc, were considered "Third World."

Fourth World

The term "Fourth World" was coined in the early 1970s by Shuswap Chief George Manuel, it refers to widely unknown nations (cultural entities) of indigenous peoples, "First Nations" living within or across national state boundaries.

Another definition of worlds within the world is straight forward and clear:

“First World, Second World, and Third World countries are products of the Three-World model, a concept that grouped all of the world’s countries into the three groups. This stratification of the countries was initially based on political ideology affiliation where First World countries were identified as the countries which were allied with the United States while Second World countries were countries that were allied with the Soviet Union. Third World countries were countries which supported neither the Soviet Union nor the United States”.

The First World Countries

The First World concept was first fronted in the 20th century when the world was immersed in the Cold War and was the collective term for the countries which were under the capitalistic umbrella. The term was introduced by the United Nations in the 1940s and was used through the Cold War period where it was propagated by the then global superpowers; the United States and the Soviet Union which had divided the world into blocs in their respective quests to become the most powerful country in the world. During this period, First World countries were identified as countries that were allies of the United States which were economically stable and shared common socio-political beliefs with the United States. First World countries were characterized by relative political and economic stability and also had a capitalistic economic system. These first-world countries were initially the majority of the countries in Western Europe as well as the United States and Canada. During the peak of the Cold War, relations between First World Countries and Second World Countries were frosty with the Soviet Union and the United States being the core of the two factions.

The concept of the First World enjoyed much traction during the Cold War, with the United States wielding much influence in international affairs among First World countries. The United States even took far-reaching measures to ensure that neighboring countries that were allied to the Second World such as Cuba were repressed through heavy economic sanctions. However, the Eastern Bloc collapse witnessed in 1991 signified the end of the Cold War and with it, the traditional definition of First World countries. The term “First World” is rarely used in recent years as a dichotomy of countries of the world based on their affiliation to the United States but is often used to describe countries with economic and political stability regardless of affiliation.

Today, the powerful economies of the West are still sometimes described as “First World,” but the term “Second World” has become largely obsolete following the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Third World” remains the most common of the original designations, but its meaning has changed from “non-aligned” and become more of a blanket term for the developing world. Since it’s partially a relic of the Cold War, many modern academics consider the “Third World” label to be outdated. Terms such as “developing countries” and “low and lower-middle-income countries” are now often used in its place.

First World, Second World, and Third World countries are products of the Three-World model, a concept that grouped all of the world’s countries into the three groups.

What makes a nation Third World?

Whatever term is used, it serves to designate countries that suffer from high poverty, high child mortality, low economic and educational development, and low self-consumption of their natural resources. Countries that are vulnerable to exploitation by large corporations and industrialized nations.

These are the developing and technologically less advanced nations of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America. Third world nations tend to have economies dependent on the developed countries and are generally characterized as poor with unstable governments and having high fertility rates, high gender-related illiteracy, and are prone to diseases. One of the critical factors is the lack of a middle class; there are a huge impoverished population and a small elite upper class that controls the country's wealth and resources. Most Third World nations also have very high foreign debt levels.

We just know that the upper class is very rich people, the middle is in the middle somewhere, and the lower class is composed of the very poor.

Socio-Economic Stratification

Whatever country you are living in, and whatever “world” your country belongs to, you still will be affected by another stratum used within society. We are mostly used to these terminologies:

  1. Upper class

  2. Middle Class and

  3. Lower Class

We just know that the upper class is very rich people, the middle is in the middle somewhere, and the lower class is composed of the very poor. To understand the concept we have to delve deep into it.

What is socio-economical stratification (SES)?

Socioeconomic status (SES) encompasses not just income but also educational attainment, financial security, and subjective perceptions of social status and social class. Socioeconomic status can encompass quality of life attributes as well as the opportunities and privileges afforded to people within society.

SES affects overall human functioning, including our physical and mental health. Low SES and its correlates, such as lower educational achievement, poverty, and poor health, ultimately affect our society.

Measuring Socioeconomic Status and Subjective Social Status

The categorization of people by social strata occurs in all societies, ranging from the complex, state-based societies to tribal and feudal societies, which are based upon socio-economic relations among classes of nobility and classes of peasants. Historically, whether or not hunter-gatherer societies can be defined as socially stratified or if social stratification began with agriculture and common acts of social exchange, remains a debated matter in the social sciences.

SES can be measured by the following tools:

  1. Education

  2. Income

  3. Occupation

  4. Family size and relationships

Other measurement tools

  1. Measures of occupational prestige

  2. Resource-based measures

  3. Absolute poverty measures

  4. Relative poverty measures

  5. Subjective Social Status measures

Class is about categorizing people based on their economic position in society. The higher your class the more power, status, and influence you have in the economy.

This has made it one of the most important ideas over the last 150 years, driving massive social change and revolutions. However as societies have changed, the definitions of the class have changed. In the Industrial Revolution, it was easy to know which class you were in. Now it might seem a bit more difficult.

The famous economist Karl Marx defined class to be about who owns the “means of production”, which are all the physical or monetary things that can be used to make money, such as factories, tools, retail estate, computers, etc. The people that own this stuff, called the bourgeoisie, can make money by simply living off the profits they get from renting this stuff out or investing it. This means they don’t need to work to survive. On the other hand, everyone who doesn't own the means of production has to work to live. They are called the proletariat and in Marx’s time in the 19th century consisted mainly of the new industrial workers in the factories.

Our definitions of the class have moved on, and in addition to thinking about whether you need to work for a living, the class can also include your social and cultural position and interests.

In the Washington Times an article appeared about the classes in the US:

The Twelve Socio-Economic Levels - the United States, 2009

1. Generational Poverty - The harsh conditions of this type of poverty may keep these families from breaking the barriers for generations.

2. Working Poor - These families live paycheck to paycheck, often in fear of being laid off.

3. Working Class - Generally these workers have more stable employment than the working poor. They may use their hands and bodies as a primary tool to do their work.

4. Situational Poverty - A crisis (e.g., health, divorce, etc.) results in an income drop causing these situations. They generally can make it back to the middle class due to their assets such as education, family support, etc.

5. Risen from Poverty Middle Class - They have gained some resources. They often become the “safety net” for others (their immediate family, friends, etc.).

6. Illusory Middle Class - These Americans have houses, cars, TVs, etc., but they also have staggering debt associated with each possession.

7. Lower Aspiring Middle Class - Adults imitate neighbors with consumer purchases. Going to college is emphasized with children although they may not have gone to college themselves.

8. Solidly Middle Class - They own their home and have investments or business. Assume children will be college graduates/professionals.

9. Upper Middle Class - They have a higher income due to professional jobs and/or investment incomes.

10. Millionaire Middle Class - They have a net worth of over a million dollars, but have not mentally accepted their wealth.

11. Owning Rich - They own income-producing assets sufficient to make paid employment unnecessary.

12. Ruling Rich - They hold positions of power in major institutions of society and may live secluded lives or are protected from the general public.

Hence the world, the country, and even your society including your neighborhood is divided into classes, strata, or levels. Whatever you want to call it, no matter how much you talk about it, or try to change the names to a polite, respectable, and easily swallowed terminology, one belonging to a class, in reality, bearing the brunt of it, worse if it happens to be working or poor class.

Hence the world, the country, and even your society including your neighborhood is divided into classes, strata, or levels.

Difference between Lower, Middle, and Upper Class

The Lower, Middle, and Upper Classes are groups divided by income. The lower class usually earns the least, the upper class earns the most, and the middle class earns in the middle of the two.

The population is often divided into socioeconomic groups based on their household incomes. These groups are divided into the lower class, middle class, and upper class. The middle-class group is at times further divided into the lower middle class, and upper-middle class. Between the three, the lower class usually earns the least, the upper class earns the most, and the middle class earns in the middle of the two. However, the actual differences between the groups may differ according to country and economy.

Working and lower class and concept of perpetual poverty

The lower class is typified by poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. People of this class, few of whom have finished high school, suffer from a lack of medical care, adequate housing and food, decent clothing, safety, and vocational training.

The working class is those minimally educated people who engage in “manual labor” with little or no prestige. Unskilled workers in the class—dishwashers, cashiers, maids, and waitresses—usually are underpaid and have no opportunity for career advancement. They are often called the working poor. Skilled workers in this class—carpenters, plumbers, and electricians—are often called blue-collar workers.

Merriam Webster defines perpetual poverty as: “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions”

Poverty is the state of not having enough material possessions or income for a person's basic needs. Poverty may include social, economic, and political elements. Absolute poverty is the complete lack of the means necessary to meet basic personal needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter. The floor at which absolute poverty is defined is always about the same, independent of the person's permanent location or era. On the other hand, relative poverty occurs when a person cannot meet a minimum level of living standards, compared to others at the same time and place. Therefore, the floor at which relative poverty is defined varies from one country to another, or from one society to another.

It is hardly arguable that being poor is a liability for the poor. It hurts adults, it hurts kids, and it lowers one’s quality of life. When we hear these facts the question always arises in our minds, “Why do poor people exist?” The common answer that usually arises in response to that question is that the poor are there because of something they did. Most people would think that the poor are uneducated, lazy, or flawed in some way. Most would think that the poor simply can’t compete, or that they lack in talent and strength. It’s tempting to think this way, especially if you have no sociological background. However, thinking that the poor are poor because of something they did is absurd. There is no logic or common sense to it. For example, and at the most obvious level, people are born poor. People are born into poor families, in poor ghettos, in poor communities, and in poor countries and thus become poor simply by being born into a special social class or demographic category. And once you’re born poor into poverty, it is hard to get out. There is what we sociologists call the Burden of Poverty. The burden of poverty is a set of interrelated problems, like high stress, racism, classism, addiction, depression, violence, and even poor cognitive functioning caused by stress, which makes it difficult for individuals to get out of the hole they are born into. The burden the poor face is heavy, like a ton of rocks weighing them down.

It is hardly arguable that being poor is a liability for the poor.

It is absurd to blame individuals born in poverty for their poverty, but even people who become poor during their lives cannot be blamed.

The top 1% are accumulating all the wealth. And that is a problem. Accumulation is sucking the global economy dry and no amount of debt expansion, wealth, generation, or austerity imposition is going to solve the problem. And since nothing has changed, we can expect things to get worse, at least for the majority.

Poverty has been a problem in which the human race, in general, has been fighting to conquer. When a person is poor, people around him take him as nobody and the people will not like to have anything in common with the poor one. The reason is that people believe that nothing good can come from him.

It is better to be a farmer that cultivates with crude farming equipment and earns less in return than to be poor. Poverty is not someone’s brother or sister and therefore is to be exiled. Poverty results in many things that can affect the human population negatively or worsen certain situations. The effects or consequences of poverty are poor health, poor or no education, death, child abuse, crime.

All of these factors push you deep into the cycle of perpetual poverty from where one cannot get out. Nobody prays to be poor because it is dangerous and risky to be poor. Poor people are regarded as nobody in society and people prefer being recognized and respected.

Poverty has been a problem in which the human race, in general, has been fighting to conquer.

Why is there poverty in the world?

Poverty, which is arguably the most far-reaching, long-standing cause of chronic suffering there is. The magnitude of poverty is especially ironic in a country like the United States whose enormous wealth dwarfs that of entire continents. More than one out of every six people in the United States lives in poverty or near-poverty. For children, the rate is even higher. Even in the middle class there is a great deal of anxiety about the possibility of falling into poverty or something close to it.

In part, poverty exists because the economic system is organized in ways that encourage the accumulation of wealth at one end and creates conditions of scarcity that make poverty inevitable at the other.

Poverty causes ignorance, disease, war, famine, stagnation and reversal of human progress, and breakdown of civilization. Poverty is therefore a very expensive proposition for all of us. If allowed to run unchecked, it will result in terrible living conditions for nearly everyone until it threatens the very existence of the human race.

What can be done?

Like a tree, poverty has many roots. But among the many causes of global poverty, one factor stands out: education. Not every person without an education is living in extreme poverty, but most of the extremely poor do lack a basic education. Those living below the poverty line will also be more likely to keep their children out of school, which means that their children will also have a greater chance of living in poverty.

According to UNESCO, if all students in low-income countries had just basic reading skills (nothing else), an estimated 171 million people could escape extreme poverty.

According to UNESCO, if all students in low-income countries had just basic reading skills (nothing else), an estimated 171 million people could escape extreme poverty. If all adults completed secondary education, we could cut the global poverty rate by more than half.

The foremost to all this is to keep your family small, consume less, reduce wastage of resources, educate children, and do not accumulate wealth. Just have whatever you deem fit for your own happy and healthy life and leave the rest for others. Just living such life will give others a chance, a just chance, to work themselves up and get their fair share of a healthy and prosperous life.


This article is an appraisal of different articles available on the internet, which are used to merge facts and figures. The intention was to clear the concept of the subject. All the materials are taken and reproduced as such from different sites. Their hyperlinks are marked and sources defined at the end of this article.



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