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Middle-income nations

The World Bank defines middle-income economies areas those with a GNI per capita of more than $1,045 but less than $12,746. According to the World Bank (2014), in 2013, the average GNI per capita of an upper middle income nation was $7,594 per capita with a total population of 2.049 billion, of which 62 percent was urban. Thailand, China, and Namibia are examples of middle-income nations (World Bank 2014a).

Perhaps the most pressing issue for middle-income nations is the problem of debt accumulation. As the name suggests, debt accumulation    is the buildup of external debt, wherein countries borrow money from other nations to fund their expansion or growth goals. As the uncertainties of the global economy make repaying these debts, or even paying the interest on them, more challenging, nations can find themselves in trouble. Once global markets have reduced the value of a country’s goods, it can be very difficult to ever manage the debt burden. Such issues have plagued middle-income countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as East Asian and Pacific nations (Dogruel and Dogruel 2007). By way of example, even in the European Union, which is composed of more core nations than semi-peripheral nations, the semi-peripheral nations of Italy and Greece face increasing debt burdens. The economic downturns in both Greece and Italy still threaten the economy of the entire European Union.

Low-income nations

The World Bank defines low-income countries as nations whose per capita GNI was $1,045 per capita or less in 2013. According to the World Bank (2014a), in 2013, the average per capita GNI of a low-income nation was $528 per capita and the total population was 796,261,360, with 28 percent located in urban areas. For example, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Somalia are considered low-income countries. Low-income economies are primarily found in Asia and Africa (World Bank 2014a), where most of the world’s population lives. There are two major challenges that these countries face: women are disproportionately affected by poverty (in a trend toward a global feminization of poverty) and much of the population lives in absolute poverty.


Stratification refers to the gaps in resources both between nations and within nations. While economic equality is of great concern, so is social equality, like the discrimination stemming from race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and/or sexual orientation. While global inequality is nothing new, several factors make it more relevant than ever, like the global marketplace and the pace of information sharing. Researchers try to understand global inequality by classifying it according to factors such as how industrialized a nation is, whether a country serves as a means of production or as an owner, and what income a nation produces.

Short answer

Consider the matter of rock-bottom prices at Walmart. What would a functionalist think of Walmart's model of squeezing vendors to get the absolute lowest prices so it can pass them along to core nation consumers?

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Why do you think some scholars find Cold War terminology (“first world” and so on) objectionable?

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Give an example of the feminization of poverty in core nations. How is it the same or different in peripheral nations?

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Pretend you are a sociologist studying global inequality by looking at child labor manufacturing Barbie dolls in China. What do you focus on? How will you find this information? What theoretical perspective might you use?

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Further research

To learn more about the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, look here: (External Link)

To learn more about the existence and impact of global poverty, peruse the data here: (External Link)


Amnesty International. 2012. “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” Retrieved January 3, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Castells, Manuel. 1998. End of Millennium . Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Central Intelligence Agency. 2012. “The World Factbook.” Retrieved January 5, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Central Intelligence Agency. 2014. “Country Comparison: Infant Mortality Rate.” Retrieved November 7, 2014 (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-worldfactbook/rankorder/2091rank.html?countryname=Canada&countrycode=ca&regionCode=noa&rank=182#ca).

Dogruel, Fatma, and A. Suut Dogruel. 2007. “Foreign Debt Dynamics in Middle Income Countries.” Paper presented January 4, 2007 at Middle East Economic Association Meeting, Allied Social Science Associations, Chicago, IL.

Moghadam, Valentine M. 2005. “The Feminization of Poverty and Women’s Human Rights.” Gender Equality and Development Section UNESCO, July. Paris, France.

Myrdal, Gunnar. 1970. The Challenge of World Poverty: A World Anti-Poverty Program in Outline . New York: Pantheon.

Oxfam. 2014. “Working for the Few: Political Capture and Economic Inequality.” Oxfam.org. Retrieved November 7, 2014 (http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/bp-working-for-few-political-capture-economic-inequality-200114-summ-en.pdf).

United Nations. 2013. "Millennium Development Goals." Retrieved November 7, 2014 (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml).

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1979. The Capitalist World Economy . Cambridge, England: Cambridge World Press.

World Bank. 2014a. “Gender Overview.” Retrieved November 7, 2014 (http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/gender/overview#1).

World Bank. 2014b. “High Income: OECD: Data.” Retrieved November 7, 2014 (http://data.worldbank.org/income-level/OEC).

World Bank. 2014c. “Low Income: Data.” Retrieved November 7, 2014 (http://data.worldbank.org/income-level/LIC).

World Bank. 2014d. “Upper Middle Income: Data.” Retrieved November 7, 2014 (http://data.worldbank.org/income-level/UMC).

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