Challenges of Classifying Nations
In order to study global stratification, researchers need to adopt some type of framework that allows for meaningful comparisons of different countries. One challenge of understanding and analyzing global stratification is that it can be difficult to define the strata, or layers, that different nations fall into and how to measure stratification. Classification systems based on income, cost of living, standard of living, infrastructure, political systems, or internal levels of inequality might categorize countries differently. However, it is useful to start with a basic framework of classification when studying global poverty and stratification.
There have been various scholarly attempts to create classification systems to use in comparing countries. One of the first attempts to describe global stratification occurred right after World War II. This is when the terms first world, second world, and third world came into use. Over time, first world became shorthand for wealthy nations and third world for poor nations. This shorthand usage of these terms is inadequate, however, because the terms originally arose in the context of the Cold War to categorize countries based on politics and alliances. First world nations were not really defined by wealth, but by alignment with the United States and Western Europe. Second world referred to nations aligned with the Soviet Union. Third world nations were not politically aligned with either the Soviets or the West. Sociologists have moved away from using these terms, seeking more precise ways to describe and understand global stratification.