Author: Tina Aridas, Valentina Pasquali
Project Coordinator: Denise Bedell

Major international organizations classify countries by different factors. One criterion that is often used is gross national income (GNI) per capita – the dollar value of a country’s final income in a year, divided by its population. It reflects the average income of a country’s citizens. It also tends to be linked with other indicators that measure the social, economic, and environmental well being of the country and its people.

Classification of Countries is from the World Bank, July 2012, on the basis of 2011 GNI per capita.

World Bank list of economies (July 2012)

Low income: $1,025 or less
Lower middle income: $1,026 to $4,035
Upper middle income: $4,036 to $12,475
High income: $12,476 or more

World Bank list of economies (July 2012)

Click on the column heading to sort the table.

  1. Low income: $1,025 or less
  2. Lower middle income: $1,026 to $4,035
  3. Upper middle income: $4,036 to $12,475
  4. High income: $12,476 or more

The latest World Bank’s classification of countries by income group is based on 2011 data on GNI per capita, and it is calculated using the World Bank Atlas method .

In this classification, countries are divided in the following income groups:

  • - Low income: $1,025 or less
  • - Lower middle income: $1,026 to $4,035
  • - Upper middle income: $4,036 to $12,475
  • - High income: $12,476 or more

According to the World Bank, Albania, Angola, St. Kitts and Nevis, Turkmenistan and Tuvalu were the only countries that experienced a change of classification over the previous year . Albania fell from the “upper middle income” group to the “lower middle income” one. Angola climbed into “upper middle income” countries from the “lower middle income” category and so did Turkmenistan and Tuvalu. St. Kitts and Nevis also saw an improvement in 2011, when it entered the top-tier of “high income” countries. Newly independent South Sudan appeared in the ranking for the first time as a “lower middle income” nation.

Classification by income does not necessarily reflect development status and economies in one group aren’t all experiencing the same level of development. However, another useful way to classify countries is precisely by their development status – whether they are advanced economies or emerging and developing economies . The International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other organizations, uses this system.

The United Nations (UN,) instead, relies on a more complex classification that includes geographic regions as well as such categories as least developed countries (like Afghanistan and Malawi,) landlocked developing countries (e.g., Botswana, Azerbaijan,) small island developing states (e.g., Bahamas, Mauritius,) transition countries (e.g., Belarus, Croatia), developed regions (Japan, Northern America,) and developing regions (Central America, Asia excluding Japan.)

The term “Newly industrialized country” (NIC) is also useful and is applied to countries whose economies have not yet reached “advanced” or “developed” status but have outpaced their developing counterparts. These are countries that are experiencing industrialization and rapid economic growth, such as China, India, Brazil, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

Finally, one system that used to be popular but has fallen out of favor is to divide the world into First-World, Second-World, Third-World and Fourth-World countries . This system was based more on a country’s position in the hierarchy of global power than on its economic status (although the two were often related.) First introduced by the United Nations, its use became widespread during the Cold War. Generally, it grouped countries aligned with the United States and NATO into the First World, the Soviet Union and its allies into the Second World, and non-aligned countries into the Third World. The term Fourth World was sometimes used to refer to extremely poor nations and, at other times, to mean marginal or “stateless” people such as aboriginal cultures within a nation.