Development is a very difficult term to define as people may think about it in different ways. Development is dynamic. Factors which need to be considered when examining development are social, political, environmental and economic. In addition to this sustainability now needs to be considered.
Conventional Development Divides
Until the late 1980s countries were classified as belonging to either the 'First', 'Second' or 'Third' Worlds. The first world referred to countries that developed on the basis of capitalism, whereas the countries of the Second World developed on the basis of a command economy. The idea behind these terms was that each 'world' represented a path to development and Third World nations could choose between the first way (capitalism), a second way (communism), or invent a third way.
'Developed' is a term usually applied to a country or region that has a high standard of living and an advanced economy based on the effective utilisation of resources. Countries like this are often referred to as 'More Economically Developed Countries' (MEDCs), a term which acknowledges the fact that those countries that are not 'developed' in the sense of this definition may be developed in other non-economic ways, such as regard to cultural, religious or social conditions. 'Developing' is a term usually applied to a relatively poor country or region that has a low standard of living but which is beginning to achieve some economic and social development. In contrast to MEDCs, countries with low levels of economic development are referred to as 'Less Economically Developed Countries' (LEDCs).
The Brandt Report, published in 1980, highlighted the growing gap in social and economic development between the 'developed' countries of the world, The North, and the 'less developed' countries, The South. The document was compiled by an independent group of statesmen headed by Willy Brandt, the former Chancellor of what was then West Germany. However, the North/South classification is simplistic and distorts a geographer's view of 'north' and 'south'.
The development gap
It is clear that there are groups of countries that share common characteristics. Some of these groupings are very polarised, leading to ideas of a development gap.
The development continuum
While it is true that massive contrasts occur, there are always countries that score at intermediate levels, leading some to conclude that there is a development continuum rather than a gap. The idea of a continuum tends to obscure the extent of extremes and many prefer to continue to use the term 'gap'.