This page contains affiliate links. This means if you a follow a link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you, Humanitarian Careers will receive a commission. Thank you for supporting the site.
There are only 39 fully developed nations in the world. However, look at a list of advanced economies and you will notice one thing… the vast majority, in fact 33 of 39, are Western countries. For the last 200 years, the Western world – essentially Western Europe, North America and Australasia, has been significantly more developed than any other region in the world. But why is this? Why are Western countries so much more developed?
Accountable Political Systems
A first reason why Western countries are more developed is because of their accountable political systems.
In order for countries to become developed, they must have political systems that keep leaders accountable. This ensures that a nation’s leaders are able to change political and economic policy to reflect the needs of the population. It also provides a range of checks and balances that ensure that power remains decentralised. These factors have been proven to play a significant role in a country’s development.
Western countries have long had accountable political systems. Even before the introduction of universal suffrage across the Western world, there was a degree of political participation built into Western style of government. This long history of political accountability has assisted Western countries to become wealthy and develop.
The politics of a country play a vital role in its development, or lack thereof. Western countries have had several centuries of political participation and accountability, and this is one reason why they are now developed.
A second reason why Western countries are developed is because they have good institutions.
A country’s institutions cover a range of mechanisms that protect people and their rights. They can include a country’s political, economic and legal systems, as well as laws such as protections of property rights, labour laws, and freedoms including of speech, association and the press. The institutions of a country essentially control the role of the state and economy and dictate how citizens interact with different official bodies.
The role of a county’s institutions is vital for its development. Western nations have a long history of having good institutions and this is vital for why they have been able to become prosperous.
People across the Western world enjoy efficient and inclusive institutions. This allows them to not only be protected themselves, but also encourages development, entrepreneurship and innovation. Economies with good institutions are more dynamic, and this is a further reason why Western countries have become developed.
A third reason why Western countries are more developed is because they have efficient economies.
For a country to become developed, its economy must be able to allocate resources where they are required. People, materials, and investments are all needed within distinct sections of an economy in order for there to be growth. The efficiencies within western economies means that these resources are able to move to where they are needed. This is a key reason why these nations have been able to become developed.
A direct result of having more efficient economies is that Western nations have been able to develop strong private sectors. Entrepreneurs are willing to invest and take risks knowing that within Western economies they can utilize the top resources. This had led to long-term economic growth, and therefore development.
Having efficient economies has helped Western countries to attract investments from around the world. International financers want to park their money in Western economies as they not only see it as a way to grow their wealth, but also to enjoy a degree of protection. This has yet further added to why Western countries have been able to prosper.
Another reason why Western countries are developed is because they have advantageous geography.
A country’s geography is another vital factor in how it develops. Geographical features such as mountains, rivers, deserts, forests and jungles help countries to defend themselves. Features such as arable land and large plains allow for populations to grow food and be sustained. Navigable rivers and access to the sea are vital for moving people and good around a country and for international trade.
Almost all the countries of the Western world have good geography. This has allowed them to become developed. For centuries Western nations have been able to capitalise on their geography to generate wealth. They also have not had to overcome difficult geography that can often be a barrier to development for many countries.
The advantageous geography across the Western world allowed for united and cohesive nations to form. It also meant that defined communities developed that populated a distinct geographical location. This provided a strong foundation for many Western societies that they were then able to build on in order to become developed.
International Development Online Courses
If you want to know more about developed countries, we highly recommend the online short course Sustainable Development in the 21st Century by Yonsei University. Delivered by former UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, the course is a great introduction to the issues developed and developing countries face. The link is to the course’s page.
We also think the online course Management of International Development: Towards Agenda 2030 is great. It looks at the current international development model as well as the trends that will be key to global development in the near future. Follow the link to the course’s page for more information.
If you are interested in the practical methods used on international development programmes, we recommend the online course How To Design & Fund International Development NGO Projects. The course teaches students the tools needed to establish and run impactful development projects. Click the link to visit the course’s page for more information.
A further reason why western countries are more developed is because of their quality infrastructure.
Infrastructure – roads, railways, airports, utilities and tele-communication networks, are vital for a nation to become prosperous. For a country to become developed, people and goods need to be able to move easily within its territory, and internationally in order to trade. Infrastructure is a virtuous cycle where by investments help to grow the economy, which allows the government to collect more in taxes, allowing it, in-turn, to spend more on improving and upkeeping the nation’s infrastructure. This is essentially one way that Western counties become developed.
Western countries have some of the best infrastructure in the world. They also have long histories – often going back centuries, of investing in railways, roads and utilities. For decades, Western nations have invested in modern technology, such as fiber-optic internet, high-speed trains and airports. This has come on top of infrastructure often built generations ago. As a result, Western countries have been able to become and remain developed.
Investments In Education and Healthcare
One reason why Western countries are developed is because of their investments in healthcare and education.
Ensuring a population has access to quality healthcare is vital for development. People who cannot get the treatment they need are more likely to become economically unproductive as they drop out of the workforce due to ill-health. When family members are ill often relatives must also stop working in order to care for them if they cannot get the medical assistance they require.
Western countries have long invested heavily in healthcare. As a result, across the Western world almost everyone can access quality medical care when they need it. This has played a major role in helping these countries develop.
Education is also vital for development. A country needs an education populous in order to work high value-add jobs. Education is also needed if people are going to start advanced enterprises or utilise modern technologies.
Across the Western world, education is free and of a high-standard. As a result, this has significantly contributed to the region becoming developed.
A final reason why Western countries are more developed is because of the legacy of colonialism.
Between the 1500s and the mid-to-late 20th Century, Western countries essentially ruled the entire world. Apart from a few small exceptions, almost every country on earth was colonized by Western nations for the majority of the last 500 years or so.
Although many people think that colonialism is what led to the Western world becoming developed, in fact this is not quite true. Really, the Western world became developed which then allowed it to colonialise the rest of the world. However, once Western nations had become colonial powers, they were then able to use the wealth this generated to further develop.
Colonial empires provided Western countries with huge deposits of natural resources. It also provided cheap labour and allowed them to control many strategic locations around the world. These factors combined generated significant wealth for Western nations.
As we’ve said, the Western world did not develop solely off the back of colonialism. However, the fact that Western countries today remain more advanced than almost anywhere else in the world – colonialism cannot be ignored as a contributing factor.