North–South divide

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World map showing Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe members. The members of this group resemble the traditional description of the 'North', defined as the old First and Second World.
World map showing countries above and below the world GDP (PPP) per capita, currently $10,700. Source: IMF (International Monetary Fund).
Blue above world GDP (PPP) per capita
Orange below world GDP (PPP) per capita
Map of world poverty by country, as of 2009 showing percentage of population living on less than $1.25 per day. Unfortunately, information is missing for some countries.
The three worlds as categorised during the Cold War era, each with its respective allies as of the period between 30 April 1975 (the fall of Saigon) and 23 August 1975 (the communist takeover in Laos). Colors do not represent current economic development.
  First World: United States and its allies.
  Second World: Soviet Union, China, and their allies.

The North–South divide is broadly considered a socio-economic and political divide. The North consists of North America, Western Europe, Australia, and Japan. The South is made up of Africa, Latin America and Asia. The North is home to four of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and all members of the G8. "The North" mostly covers the West and the First World, along with much of the Second World. While the North may be defined as the richer, more developed region and the South as the poorer, less developed region, many more factors differentiate between the two global areas. 95% of the North has enough food and shelter.[1] Similarly, 95% of the North has a functioning education system. In the South, on the other hand, only 5% of the population has enough food and shelter. It “lacks appropriate technology, it has no political stability, the economies are disarticulated, and their foreign exchange earnings depend on primary product exports.” [1] In more economic terms, the North—with one quarter of the world population—controls four fifths of the world income. 90% of the manufacturing industries are owned by and located in the North.[2] Inversely, the South—with three quarters of the world populations—has access to one fifth of the world income. It serves as a source for raw material, for the North, “eager to acquire their own independent resource bases…subjected large portions of the global South to direct colonial rule” between 1850 and 1914.[3] As nations become economically developed, they may become part of the "North", regardless of geographical location, while any other nations which do not qualify for "developed" status are in effect deemed to be part of the "South." [4]


The idea of categorizing countries by their economic and developmental status began during the Cold War with the classifications of East and West. The Soviet Union and China represented the developing East, and the United States and their allies represented the more developed West. Out of this paradigm of development surged the division of the First World [the west] and the Second World [the east] with the even less developed countries constituting the Third World. As some Second World countries joined the First World, and others joined the Third World, a new and simpler classification was needed. The First World became the “North” and the Third World became the “South”. [5]

Problems with defining the divide

Latitudes of states vs GDP per capita

Following the fall of the Eastern Bloc, which was commonly referred to as the Second World, many of its constituent countries were reclassified as developing, despite being geographically northern. At the same time, geographically southern nations previously considered "developing," such as the East Asian Tigers or Turkey, have joined the modern First World, but are classified inconsistently in maps showing the north–south divide.[citation needed] Similarly, dependencies of developed nations are also classified as Southern, although they are part of the developed world.[6]

On an ideological level, some development geographers have argued that current concentration on the north–south divide as the main organizing principle for understanding the world economy has overlooked the role of inter-imperial conflicts between the United States, Japan, and Europe.[7]

Defining development

Being categorized as part of the “North” implies development as opposed to belonging to the “South” which implies a lack thereof. According to N. Oluwafemi Mimiko, The South lacks the right technology, it is politically unstable, their economies are divided, and their foreign exchange earning depend on primary product exports which come from the North, and the fluctuation of prices. The little control of imports and exports condemned the South to obey the imperialist system. The lack of the South and the development of the North further the inequality and end up putting the South as a source of raw material for the developed countries.[8] The north becomes synonymous with economic development and industrialization while the South represents the previously colonized countries which are in need of help in the form of international aid agendas [9] In order to understand how this divide occurs, a definition of “development” itself is needed.

The Dictionary of Human Geography defines development as “[p]rocesses of social change or [a change] to class and state projects to transform national economies".[10] This definition entails an understanding of economic development which is imperative when trying to understand the north–south divide.

Economic Development is a measure of progress in a specific economy. It refers to advancements in technology, a transition from an economy based largely on agriculture to one based on industry and an improvement in living standards.[11][12]

Other factors that are included in the conceptualization of what a developed country is include life expectancy and the levels of education, poverty and employment in that country.

The North

International Organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), generally tend to agree that the group of majorly developed countries includes the following countries/regions:[13]

  Countries described as high-income and advanced economies by the WB and IMF





Brandt Line

The Brandt Line is a visual depiction of the north–south divide, proposed by West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in the 1980s. It encircles the world at a latitude of approximately 30° North, passing between North and Central America, north of Africa and the Middle East, climbing north over China, Mongolia and Korea, but dipping south so as to include Australia and New Zealand in the "Rich North".

Digital divide

The global digital divide is often characterised as corresponding to the north–south divide; however, Internet use, and especially broadband access, is now soaring in Asia compared with other continents. This phenomenon is partially explained by the ability of many countries in Asia to bypass older Internet technology and infrastructure, coupled with booming economies which allow vastly more people to get online.

Development gap

World map by quartiles of Human Development Index in 2011.
  Very High
  Data unavailable

The north–south divide has more recently been named the development continuum gap. This places greater emphasis on closing the evident gap between rich (more economically developed) and poor (less economically developed) countries. A good measure of on which side of the gap a country is located is the Human Development Index (HDI). The nearer this is to 1.0, the greater is the country's level of development and the further the country is on its development pathway (closer towards being well developed), exemplified well by Walter Rostow's model of development and the Clark Fisher model.[citation needed]

Theories explaining the divide


Certain aspects of capitalism (especially Laissez Faire capitalism) have the potential to lead to inequality, a potential which it has arguably demonstrated as per a number of perspectives: the capitalist ideology relies on the constant motivation to produce capital accumulation. The nature of capitalism leads those countries with a comparative advantage (developed) to accumulate capital through dispossession or in other words to take capital from those less advantaged (un-developed/developing). This accumulation by dispossession leads to the unequal development that feeds the north–south divide.[14]


Globalization, or Global Capitalism, as the leading cause for global inequality: globalization enhances social and economic gaps between countries, since it requires economies and societies to adapt in a very rapid manner, and because this almost never happens in an equal fashion, some nations grow faster than others. Wealthier/ developed countries exploit poorer/ less developed countries to a point where less developed societies become dependent on developed countries for survival. The very structure and process of globalization perpetuates and reproduces unequal relationships and opportunities between the North and the South, it tends to "favor the privileged and further marginalize the already disadvantaged".[15]


Uneven immigration patterns lead to inequality: in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries immigration was very common into areas previously less populated (North America, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand) from already technologically advanced areas (United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal). This facilitated an uneven diffusion of technological practices since only areas with high immigration levels benefited. Immigration patterns in the twenty-first century continue to feed this uneven distribution of technological innovation. People are eager to leave countries in the South in attempts to better their life standards and get their share in the perceived prosperity of the North. “South and Central Americans want to live and work in North America. Africans and Southwest Asians want to live and work in Europe. Southeast Asians want to live and work in North America and Europe”.[5]

Closing the divide

It is arguable from some perspectives that free international trade and unhindered capital flows across countries could maybe lead to a contraction in the North–South divide. In this case more equal trade and flow of capital would allow the possibility for developing countries to further develop economically.[5] However, when the South called for New International Economic Order (NIEO) in 1974 to restructure the global economy, the South demanded more than emergence into the capitalist market.[16] Their demands included linking prices of commodity exports to manufactured imports, transferring of technology from North to South, canceling or rescheduling debts of Third World, improving representation in economic players—World Bank, UN Security Council, standardizing prices for raw materials, solving food crisis, and” opening up of the North’s market for manufactured or semi-processed goods of the South. “ [16] The North did not accept these demands.Why the North didn’t accept these demands were because they posed some challenged on their own. Specifically, the South had no leverage over the North, since the South had very weak industrial bases and divided structures. Another challenge was that the South was always pursuing the same goals. The biggest challenge was that countries in the South was the nature of the leadership within their country. The South had a strong-held perspective that they had an internal problem that indicated seeds of corruption and maladministration, bad policies, and political instability.[17] In order to keep their power and leverage, the North reiterated their plan to assimilate the South into free international trade. As some countries in the South experience rapid development, there is some evidence that those states are developing high levels of South-South aid.[18] Brazil, in particular, has been noted for its high levels of aid ($1 billion annually - ahead of many traditional donors) and the ability to use its own experiences to provide high levels of expertise and knowledge transfer.[18] This has been described as a 'global model in waiting'.[19] This has been described as a 'global model in waiting'.[19] The South also suffers from strains of leaders who commit to foreign interests over the interests of their own countries. Countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Mexico have “succeeded in moving away from the path of poverty to some semblance of prosperity,” but only with the help of strategic relations by the North, suggesting the North and South need a New National Economic and Social Order.[16] The South not only suffers from the failure to govern from it’s leader, but also there’s internal negative economic policies that show more commitment to foreign interests than their own individual countries.[17] The United Nations has also established its role in diminishing the divide between North and South through its Millennium Development Goals. These goals seek to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development all by the year 2015.[20] Some critical steps that need to take place in the dialogue between the North and South in relation to the New World Order is the acknowledgement of the struggles that the South faces in the global economic system. The other step is to create a way for the development of the South to change internal structures for a more interconnectedness with the global economic order.[17]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Mimiko, Oluwafemi (2012). Globalization: The Politics of Global Economic Relations and International Business. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic. p. 47. 
  2. Mimiko, Oluwafemi (2012). Globalization: The Politics of Global Economic Relations and International Business. Durham, D.C.: Carolina Academic. p. 47. 
  3. Steger, Manfred (2009). Globalization: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP. p. 31. 
  4. Therien, J.P.. Beyond the north-south divide: the two tales of world poverty. Third World Quarterly. pp. 723–742. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Reuveny, Rafael X. “The North–South Divide and International Studies: A Symposium.” International Studies Review 9.4 (2007): 556-564. Academic Search complete. EBSCO. Web. 23 Oct. 2009. <>
  6. Therien. J.P, (1999) Beyond the north–south divide: the two tales of world poverty. Third World Quarterly. Vol 20. No. 4. pp723-742
  7. Corbridge, S., (1986), Capitalist World Development. MacMillian, see esp. sec. 5.3
  8. Mimiko, N. Oluwafemi. Globalization: The Politics of Global Economic Relations and International Business. North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 2012. 22 & 47. Print.
  9. Preece, Julia. "Lifelong learning and development: a perspective from the ‘South’" Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education 39.5 (2009). 23 Oct. 2009.<>
  10. Gregory, Derek, Ron Johnston, Geraldine Pratt , Michael J. Watts, and Sarah Whatmore. The Dictionary of Human Geography. 5th. Wiley-Blackwell , 2009. Print.
  11. Economic development “implies progressive changes in the socio-economic structure of a country […] [a] change in technological and institutional organization of production as well as in distributive pattern of income”
  13. The image to the right depicts this
  14. Harvey, David. Notes towards a theory of uneven geographical development
  15. Kacowicz, Arie M. "Globalization, Poverty, and the North–South Divide." International Studies Review 9.4 (2007): 565-580. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 23 Oct. 2009. <>
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Mimiko, Oluwafemi (2012). Globalization: The Politics of Global Economic Relations and International Business. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic. pp. 48–54. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Mimiko, N. Oluwafemi. Globalization: The Politics of Global Economic Relations and International Business. North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 2012. 47-54. Print.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Cabral and Weinstock 2010. Brazil: an emerging aid player. London: Overseas Development Institute
  19. 19.0 19.1 Cabral, Lidia 2010. Brazil’s development cooperation with the South: a global model in waiting. London: Overseas Development Institute

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