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Is America a First World Country? All You Need to Know

You surely have heard of the phrase:“America, the land where dreams come true”, or “the American dream”.

America, or specifically the United States of America, is the land where many desire to go in the hope to prosper and succeed in life. Since the US is one of the most developed and wealthiest countries in the world, it is seen as a land of opportunities and there are many reasons behind this.

America is a first world country, because the United States of America is one of the world’s most highly developed, innovative, and technologically powerful economy. 

US is among the frontrunners in many sectors including technological advances, computers, artificial intelligence, pharmaceuticals as well as medical, aerospace, and military equipment. 

Additionally, the US’ currency is the most used currency in international transactions and is the world’s leading reserve currency. All of these factors declare the US as a first-world nation.

Even though the term “first-world” originally had a different meaning, nowadays it is used to describe the most industrialized and developed countries. Considering the characteristics of the “first-world”, the United States of America is indeed among first-world countries.

Yet, it does have some aspects that can be compared to less developed countries than the US.

What exactly does it take to be a first world country, what makes the US so strong, and on the other hand, what are its weaknesses?

Let’s find out.

USA’s location on world wap

Where is the US? – Fast facts

The United States of America or commonly known as the US or the United States is a country situated in North America.

The United States borders Canada to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and Mexico to the south.

USA is the world’s third-largest country by population and the fourth-largest country in terms of area and surprisingly, and the country has no official language.

The US is the center of the world’s entertainment and home to the best musicians of all time.

Being more than twice the size of the European Union and a leading political, scientific, and cultural force of the world, let us go through some quick facts before we dive in.

Official NameThe United States of America
Type of GovernmentFederal presidential constitutional republic
Capital CityWashington D.C.
Largest CityNew York City
Number of States50 (represented as stars on the US flag)
National LanguageEnglish
Religion63% Christianity followed by others
PopulationApprox. 332,000,000 people (331,893,745 as of 2021)
Area3,796,742 square miles or 9,833,520 km
CurrencyU.S. dollar ($) (USD)
Major MountainsAppalachian Mountains, Rocky Mountains
Major RiversMississippi, Missouri, Colorado
Some facts about USA

What is meant by “first-world”?

The term “first world” emerged during the Cold War in the 1950s. Originally, it referred to the United States of America, Western Europe, and their allies opposing what then was the Soviet Union.

The “second-world” consisted of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and their allies while all remaining countries, who aligned with neither, were referred to as the “third-world”.

However, some of those countries like Japan, for example, do not fit in the present definition of a “third-world” country.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the term’s meaning changed significantly.

Today, the expression “first-world” is typically used to describe highly developed, industrialized, and economically strong nations. Such first-world nations are also referred to as “westernized nations of the world”.

Democracy is the most important pillar of first-world countries.

Characteristics of a first-world country

First-world countries can be distinguished by several characteristics which are the following:

  • Political and economic stability and prosperity
  • Democracy
  • Strong rule of law
  • Capitalist economy
  • High standard of living
  • High literacy rate
  • Highly industrialized
  • Low poverty rate
  • Free enterprise
  • High accessibility to infrastructure and modern resources

Examples of first-world countries include the United States, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, France, Scandinavian countries, and more.

What makes the United States a first-world country?

As the term “First-world country” is used today, it refers to nations that reached the pinnacle of development in several categories and the United States is one of them.

First-world countries like the US have a high-functioning democracy with a minor risk of instability. Its economy is incredibly stable and innovative.

Moreover, like other first-world countries, the United States enjoys the most advanced technologies, the highest standard of living, and the greatest cultural and political influence across the world.

Here are some of the main aspects that make the United States of America a first-world country.

New York City, the financial center of the US and the financial capital of the world.

The economy of the United States

First and foremost, the United States’ economy is fueled by immense productivity, a well-developed infrastructure, and has the most technological power in the world.

The US is also incredibly abundant in natural resources like Oil, Coal, Copper, Gold, Silver, Lumber, Bauxite, and more. From the very beginning, the country has been vigorously exploiting these raw goods ultimately resulting in a very strong manufacturing sector.

Also, the United States is the world’s largest economy by GDP and National net worth and the second-largest by PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) after China.

Talking about technological power, the US is flourishing.

In sectors like artificial intelligence, computers, medical, pharmaceutical as well as aerospace and military equipment, the United States continues to be either the leader or at the front.

Another, yet very interesting fact contributing to the US’ booming economy is that it is home to highly skilled people from every corner of the world.

Countless people from abroad come to America each year with the confidence of their expertise and work ethics, and in the hope to succeed in life.

Einstein is one of the best examples of the geniuses who sought refugee in the USA.

Looking back at the country’s history, they received the strongest, healthiest, and hardest workers due to African influence. In the 1800s, a great number of the smartest and most hardworking Chinese people came to the US.

Moreover, the country has mathematicians, machinists, and engineers from all parts of Europe as well as I.T specialists from India and other Asian countries.

As you can see, many countries gave their absolute best workers which further helped in economic advances in the United States of America.

Last but certainly not least, the US’ strong government further helped to make the country count among the first-world countries. 

America’s political stability and influence around the world along with robust law enforcement and a powerful military ultimately contribute to the US being a strong economy hence, a strong country.

Wall Street is the biggest stock exchange in the world.

Employment vs. Unemployment

Due to the fact that first-world countries have an excellent economic growth rate, high literacy rate, good job creation strategies, and higher participation rates, employment levels in such countries are quite decent.

The US is the third-largest labor force in the world right behind China and India, as of 2020.

85% of all Americans are employed by the country’s private sector which primarily consists of small businesses. The remaining 14% are government workers (federal, state, and local). In 2021, the employment rate stood at 58.4%. 

However, the United States is the only developed economy that does not legally promise a worker’s paid sick leave or paid vacation. It is also one of the few countries without the legal right for paid family leave.

Despite the US’ good employment rates it is quite intriguing to see and hear more and more people highlighting the distressing employment practices in the country.

Some scholars like political scientist Daniel Kinderman and business theorist Jeffrey Pfeffer propose that toxic working environments, increased performance pressure, precarity, long hours, and other hardships imposed on workers severely affect people’s health or even lead to their death.

Comparing the US’ unemployment rate, about 4% of the country’s population have no job, making 6.5 million people looking for work.

Many believe a rate of 4-5% isn’t particularly concerning for the economy, yet a significant fraction of Americans struggle with financial hardships, illnesses, mental stress, and homelessness due to unemployment.

The income & wealth of American people

The majority of Americans enjoy a high standard of living, another indicator of the US being a first-world country. Americans own the largest amount of the world’s wealth lying at over 30%. This is more than any other country on the planet.

As a German, I find it very astounding to see a large number of Americans owning a beautiful house and one or two cars. In Germany, most people spend their whole life in apartments.

This is mainly due to a denser population and less space than the US and cost factors. Buying property in Germany is much more expensive than in the US.

Another thought-provoking fact is that the United States is home to the most millionaires and billionaires in the world. Yet, the country faces a rising level of income inequality (more on that below).

Americans indeed live in a rich country, but that doesn’t necessarily make every American rich himself.

Due to the country’s lack of government support for at-risk workers and a weak collective bargaining system, the US has a larger amount of low-income workers than any other developed country.

While a great number of Americans live a pretty decent lifestyle, a significant percentage of the US population struggles with financial insecurity due to below-average income, little government support regarding this matter, and income inequality.

International trade & business culture

Domestic and international business is crucial for economic growth. That’s why many countries including the US are at the forefront in trade.

Internationally trading countries grow faster, boost productivity, innovate, and create more opportunities along with higher income for people. 

Open trade also helps countries to expand their markets and benefit low-income households by providing cheaper goods and services.

The United States of America understands this very well.

The US is among the top three in terms of export and import, making it one of the most important trading nations in the world. Yet, over the past years, the USA has been suffering from a trade deficit since its imports outweigh its exports.

Furthermore, the country is much like a magnet to foreign investments. Countries like the UK, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Japan, China, Ireland, and numerous more invest in the country to a great extent.

US Dollar is the most used currency in the world.

Currency

The US Dollar is the strongest world currency. It serves as a global currency also known as the reserve currency and rules the foreign exchange market.

The top 3 global currencies are the US Dollar, Euro, and the Yen out of which the US Dollar is the most popular one.

The strength of the USD is backed up by the country’s well-built economy which ultimately supports its value. Nonetheless, despite dollars in foreign debt and ongoing deficit spending, the country still maintains global trust and confidence in its capability to pay its obligations.

This continuous international trade of dollars is the reason why it remains the strongest currency in the world and may continue to hold its title for years to come.

Problems of the US despite being a first-world country

Running a country is not a bed of roses. It comes with many challenges and problems either faced by the government, the population itself, or both together.

Focusing on the United States, I listed some of the key issues in the US despite being the world’s most productive and highly developed economy.

Being homeless is a big social issue in the US.

Poverty

The US is a very wealthy country by international standards, yet 37 million Americans live in poverty of which some millions even live in “third-world conditions”. 

This poverty issue is mainly due to inflation, income inequality, and poor education resulting in more unemployment, homelessness, and crime.

Other factors that contribute to poverty rates in the US are job loss and children growing up in female-headed families with no spouse. 

Compared to married-couple families, the poverty rate of such children was four times higher making them prone to food-insecure households.

Throughout the country, many efforts have been made to combat poverty in the United States. 

Governmental and non-governmental campaigns ranging from a neighborhood to national level have been launched to support people in need.

Advocacy, legislation, social work, education, community organizing, and charity are all poverty reduction strategies used by the US government and its population.

Income & wealth inequality

Income and wealth inequality has been a problem in the US for a long time.

The US is in the middle rank with a Gini index (a statistical measure of wealth distribution) of 41.4 according to data from worldpopulationreview.com. Keep in mind, the greater the percentage the greater the wealth inequality.

Statistics say that over the past 50 years, the top fifth of American households brought in more than half of all the US income which is more than the lower four-fifths altogether.

This shows that middle-class incomes have grown much slower in comparison with upper-class incomes causing the wealth gap between rich and poor to almost double.

Also, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), income inequality in the US is the highest among all G7 nations.

Health care system

Even though the United States of America is renowned for its medical leadership in research and technology and spends far more on its healthcare sector than other wealthy countries, its health care system lacks in several aspects.

First of all, the high costs of care. Health care services in the US are quite expensive, preventing Americans from accessing them. Pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and medical bills are so costly that the average-income American just couldn’t afford them.

Furthermore, the US has no universal health care coverage, unlike other well-developed nations. Although most Americans have health insurance, 16% of US citizens are not insured. Most of them are low or middle-income families.

Lack of transparency during medical procedures and treatments as well as difficulties in finding a good doctor is also widespread problems in the US healthcare system.

In a report by The Commonwealth Fund, the performance of the U.S. healthcare system was compared to 10 other high-income countries. Access to care, Care process, Administrative Efficiency, Equity, and Healthcare outcomes were the five domains used in the assessment.

Unfortunately, the United States ranked last at 11th place.

Aging populations

The population of the United States is aging. 

Presently, there are approximately 46 million Americans aged 65 and above. Experts believe this number to be almost double by 2040-2050.

That means that about one out of five people will be 65 or older as compared to the year of 2000 when one in eight Americans were of this age.

Aging populations can have several adverse effects on society and the economy.

Nowadays, Americans have fewer children contrasted to the baby boom between 1946 to 1964. Fewer children combined with longer life expectancy results in a country that ages faster.

Furthermore, a declining fertility rate also plays an important role in America’s aging population. To put it in easy words, by 2035, there will be more older adults than kids.

More older people mean fewer working-age people in the economy declining the productivity of the country along with an increase in pension and healthcare costs.

Additionally, high labor costs, lower labor-force participation, delayed business expansions and decreased international competitiveness translate into slow-going economic growth.

This article is

written by Asma Schleicher and edited by Efe Genit. Asma is a creative writer with German and Pakistani roots. She is an analytical writer with a degree in business administration. In this blog, she mostly writes about cultural, travel, and fashion-related topics reflecting her real-life experiences. You can also check Asma’s profile in Upwork.