Core and Periphery, Two Types That Make the World

Map of the world showing core, semi-periphery, periphery, and others in different colors.

Jared.mckay.walker/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

The countries of the world can be divided into two major world regions: the "core" and the "periphery." The core includes major world powers and the countries that contain much of the wealth of the planet. The periphery has those countries that are not reaping the benefits of global wealth and globalization.

The Theory of Core and Periphery

Many reasons exist as to why this global structure has formed, but generally speaking, there are many barriers, physical and political, that prevent the poorer citizens of the world from participating in global relations. The disparity of wealth between core and periphery countries is staggering. Oxfam noted that 82 percent of the world's 2017 income went to the richest one percent of people.

The Core

The top 20 countries ranked by the United Nations Human Development Index are all in the core. However, of note is the slowing, stagnant, and occasionally declining population growth of these countries.

The opportunities created by these advantages perpetuate a world driven by individuals in the core. People in positions of power and influence around the world are often brought up or educated in the core (nearly 90 percent of world leaders have a degree from a Western university).

The Periphery

The population is skyrocketing in the periphery because of a number of contributing factors, including a limited ability to move and the use of children as a means to support a family, among others.

Many people living in rural areas perceive opportunities in cities and take action to migrate there, even though there are not enough jobs or housing to support them. About one billion people now live in slum conditions, the UN estimates, and the majority of population growth around the world is occurring in the periphery.

The rural-to-urban migration and high birth rates of the periphery are creating both megacities, urban areas with more than eight million people, and hyper cities, urban areas with more than 20 million people. These cities, such as Mexico City or Manila, have slum areas that can contain up to two million people with little infrastructure, rampant crime, no health care, and massive unemployment.

Core-Periphery Roots in Colonialism

Industrialized nations played a key role in establishing political regimes during postwar reconstruction. English and the Romance languages remain the state languages for many non-European countries long after their foreign colonists have packed up and gone home. This makes it difficult for anyone brought up speaking a local language to assert him or herself in a Eurocentric world. Also, public policy formed by Western ideas may not provide the best solutions for non-Western countries and their problems.

Core-Periphery in Conflict

Here are some examples of border clashes between nations of the core and the periphery:

  • The growing fence between the U.S. (core) and Mexico (periphery) to prevent the entrance of unauthorized immigrants.
  • The Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.
  • Air and naval patrols on the waters between Australia and Southeast Asia and between the EU and North Africa to keep out unwanted immigrants.
  • The UN-enforced border separating the Turkish north and Greek south of Cyprus, known as the Green Line.

The core-periphery model is not limited to a global scale, either. Stark contrasts in wages, opportunities, access to health care, and so on among a local or national population are commonplace. The United States, the quintessential beacon for equality, exhibits some of the most obvious examples. U.S. Census Bureau data estimated that the top 20 percent of wage earners made up roughly 51 percent of all U.S. income in 2016, and the top five percent of earners made 22 percent of all U.S. income.

For a local perspective, witness the slums of Anacostia, whose impoverished citizens live a stone's throw from the grand marble monuments that represent the power and affluence of Washington, D.C.'s central downtown.

Although the world may be metaphorically shrinking for the minority in the core, the world maintains a rough and limiting geography for the majority in the periphery.

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Stief, Colin. "Core and Periphery, Two Types That Make the World." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Stief, Colin. (2023, April 5). Core and Periphery, Two Types That Make the World. Retrieved from Stief, Colin. "Core and Periphery, Two Types That Make the World." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).