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Middle-income nations

The World Bank defines lower middle income countries as having a GNI that ranges from $1,006 to $3,975 per capita and upper middle income countries as having a GNI ranging from $3,976 to $12,275 per capita. According to the World Bank (2011), in 2010, the average GNI of an upper middle income nation was $5,886 per capita with a total population of 2,452,168,701, of which 57 percent was urban. Thailand, China, and Namibia are examples of middle-income nations (World Bank 2011).

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 are threatening the economy of the entire European Union.

Low-income nations

The World Bank defines low-income countries as nations whose GNI was $1,005 per capita or less in 2010. According to the World Bank (2011), in 2010, the average 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 2011), 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 towards a global feminization of poverty) and much of the population lives in absolute poverty.

In some ways, the term global feminization    of poverty says it all: around the world, women are bearing a disproportionate percentage of the burden of poverty. This means more women live in poor conditions, receive inadequate healthcare, bear the brunt of malnutrition and inadequate drinking water, and so on. Throughout the 1990s, data indicated that while overall poverty rates were rising, especially in peripheral nations, the rates of impoverishment increased for women nearly 20 percent more than for men (Mogadham 2005).

Why is this happening? While there are myriad variables affecting women’s poverty, research specializing in this issue identifies three causes:

  1. The expansion of female-headed households
  2. The persistence and consequences of intra-household inequalities and biases against women
  3. The implementation of neoliberal economic policies around the world (Mogadham 2005)

In short, this means that within an impoverished household, women are more likely to go hungry than men; in agricultural aid programs, women are less likely to receive help than men; and often, women are left taking care of families with no male counterpart.


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 their model of squeezing vendors to get the absolute lowest prices so they can pass them along to core nation consumers?

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

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

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?

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) ).

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.

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

World Bank. 2011. Poverty and Equity Data. Retrieved December 29, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

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Source:  OpenStax, Global sociology. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2014 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11658/1.2
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