Second World

Updated on January 31, 2024
Article byKosha Mehta
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Second World?

“Second World” as a term, originated during the Cold War era to describe the group of countries aligned with the Soviet Union and the communist ideology. State-controlled economies and authoritarian governments characterized these nations. Its purpose is to describe and categorize countries aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Second world

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Its importance lies in representing the global struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, shaping international relations and geopolitical dynamics during that era. Thus, the Second World was essentially the opposite of the capitalist and democratic First World, represented by the United States and its allies. However, the contemporary second world implies developing economies.

Key Takeaways

  • The Second World implies the countries aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, characterized by socialist or communist political systems and centrally planned economies.
  • These nations focused on heavy industries and had varying economic development and living standards.
  • Such countries often had limited political freedoms and faced economic inefficiencies, limited consumer choices, and income disparities.
  • The term “Second World” has lost its relevance in contemporary geopolitical discussions, and the categorization was based on political and economic alignment during a specific historical period.

Second World Explained

Second World refers mainly to countries classified as those which, during the Cold War, aligned themselves with the Soviet Union and followed socialist or communist political systems. The economic systems of such countries were centrally planned economies, where the state had significant control over industries and resources. The focus was often on heavy industries such as manufacturing and mining.

However, with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Second World lost its relevance as a distinct geopolitical concept. Today, the term is rarely used and has largely been replaced by more nuanced classifications such as developed, developing, and emerging economies. The historical significance of these countries lies in their representation of the global power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, and its eventual fall marked a major turning point in world politics.

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As the concept of the Second World is no longer widely used in contemporary geopolitical discussions, no specific criteria are associated with it in the present context. Economic and political factors and various socio-economic indicators can provide insights into a country’s status and could be considered in determining a country’s classification.

Criteria such as unemployment rates, rates of infant mortality, life expectancy, living standards, and income distribution can offer valuable perspectives on the well-being and development of a nation. Moreover, the criteria for categorizing a country as part of the Second World during the cold war were primarily based on political and economic alignment. Let us look at some key criteria:

  1. Political Alignment: These countries were aligned with the Soviet Union and followed a socialist or communist political system. They typically had authoritarian governments and limited political freedoms.
  2. Economic System: Such nations had state-controlled economies, often characterized by central planning and collective ownership of resources. They prioritized industrialization and focused on heavy industry sectors.
  3. Military Cooperation: These countries were often part of military alliances led by the Soviet Union, such as the Warsaw Pact. They maintained close military ties and cooperation with other similar nations.
  4. Opposition to the First World: These countries were ideologically opposed to the capitalist and democratic countries of the First World, particularly the United States and its allies.


Let us have a look at the examples to understand the concept better. 

Example #1

An example of a Second World country during the Cold War could be East Germany. East Germany, officially known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was aligned with the Soviet Union and followed a socialist model with a centrally planned economy and authoritarian governance. It was considered part of these due to its political and economic alignment with the Soviet bloc.

The division of Germany into East and West, symbolizing the broader divide between the communist and capitalist worlds, made East Germany a significant player in the Cold War and a prime example of a Second-World nation.

Example #2

Consider that the Republic of Veridia is a fictional country that embodies a unique position between the developed and developing world. Veridia has experienced significant economic growth and has made notable progress in various social indicators, such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure.

Veridia has built a strong industrial base and is home to thriving manufacturing and technology sectors. It has attracted foreign investments and successfully implemented economic reforms, leading to a substantial increase in per capita income and overall standard of living.

However, despite its advancements, Veridia still faces certain challenges and lags behind fully developed nations in certain areas. Income inequality and disparities in access to resources and opportunities persist, indicating that some segments of the population are not yet benefiting equally from the country’s growth. The government of Veridia recognizes the need for further development and aims to bridge the gap between the developed and developing world.


During the existence of Second World countries, they faced several problems and challenges. Here are some common issues that these nations encountered:

  1. Economic inefficiencies: The centrally planned economies of such countries often suffer from inefficiencies due to the lack of market mechanisms. Centralized decision-making and a lack of competition led to resource misallocation, low productivity, and slow economic growth.
  2. Quality of infrastructure and public services: These countries sometimes struggle with inadequate infrastructure and public services. Areas such as transportation, healthcare, and education often experienced underinvestment, leading to substandard facilities and limited access for certain segments of the population.
  3. Income disparities: Despite efforts to reduce income inequalities, these nations still face disparities in wealth distribution. Certain social groups or regions might have enjoyed better living standards and access to opportunities compared to others.

Second World vs First World

Let us look at the differences between the second world and the first world:

CriteriaSecond WorldFirst World
Industrial DevelopmentFocus on heavy industriesDiverse industrial sectors
Economic DevelopmentVaried, moderate to lowAdvanced, high
Standard of LivingMixed, varying living standardsHigh living standards
Political FreedomsLimited political freedomsDemocratic institutions
Economic InequalitiesIncome disparitiesRelatively lower income disparities
Technological AdvancementsVaried, dependent on external supportTechnologically advanced

Second World vs Third World

Let us look at the differences between second-world and third-world countries.

CriteriaSecond WorldThird World
Economic SystemCentrally planned economyVaried, including developing economies, mixed economies, and economies in transition
Economic DevelopmentModerate, with varying levelsLow to moderate, with significant development challenges
Standard of LivingMixed, varying living standardsLow living standards, significant poverty, and basic needs challenges
Technological AdvancementsVaried, dependent on external supportVaried, ranging from limited access to advanced technology to emerging technological capabilities
Global InfluenceRegional power or influenceLess global influence compared to First and Second World nations
Health and EducationVaried, with some investment in public servicesLimited access to quality healthcare and education services
InfrastructureVarying levels of infrastructure developmentLimited or inadequate infrastructure, particularly in rural areas

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Did Second World countries experience economic challenges?

Yes, Second World countries faced economic challenges such as inefficiencies in centrally planned economies, limited access to consumer goods, and income disparities. These challenges resulted from the lack of market mechanisms and competition, which hindered economic growth and development.

2. Did all Second World countries have similar living standards?

No, the living standards in Second World countries varied significantly. While some countries like East Germany and Czechoslovakia had relatively higher living standards compared to other Second World nations, others faced challenges in terms of limited consumer choices, shortages of goods, and disparities in access to amenities.

3. What were the main countries classified as Second World during the Cold War?

The main countries classified as Second World aligned themselves with the Soviet Union. This included Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Yugoslavia. Additionally, countries outside of Europe, like Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, and China, were also considered part of the Second World.

This article has been a guide to what is Second World. Here, we explain it in detail with its problems, examples, criteria, and comparison with first & third worlds. You may also find some useful articles here –

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