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What Is an Emerging Nation?

By J.E. Holloway
Updated May 23, 2024
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In the study of economics and politics, an emerging nation is a developing nation which is beginning to demonstrate significant industrialization. The term is used to indicate an intermediate stage between a developing nation, which often lacks significant industrialization, and a developed nation, which usually has a high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and a high level of industrialization. Although there is no consensus definition of the term, many economists identify the same countries with the term "emerging nation."

Economists have not come to consensus on a single definition of what makes a developed country, but there are broad similarities between the views of most scholars. To most economists, the developing countries include the industrialized nations of Western Europe, as well as Asian nations such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea. Other developed nations include the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Opinions may vary on the status of some Eastern European economies as well as other nations, but the core group of developed nations is universally recognized.

Developing nations are similar to developed nations in that there is no universally-recognized definition of the term. Some economists and politicians criticize the term for assuming that Westernization is the only form of development, but it remains in common use. In general, developing economies have a low GDP and a low level of industrialization. They also often have a low standard of living. The term encompasses many nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

An emerging nation occupies a position between these two poles. Also known as a "newly industrialized country," an emerging nation is in the midst of a course of economic development which seems likely to bring it into the ranks of the developed nations in the future. In the early 21st century, countries of this type included China, India, Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and other nations.

The term "emerging" nation is subjective; not all economists agree on what exactly qualifies as an emerging nation, citing a variety of different economic indicators. For example, some sources classify Turkey, South Africa and Mexico as emerging nations, while other economists consider these nations to be developed. Because the term represents a present stage of economic development, whether a nation is an emerging nation or not can change over time. Mexico, for example, joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1994, joining an organization which consists largely of the world's developed nations. Some scholars identify this as Mexico's transition from an emerging to a developed nation.

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