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Development are oft criticized by Juliet Jacob

Rostow’s Stages of Economic Growth and Development 13/09/2018, 7+54
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The economist’s 5 stages of
economic growth and
development are oft criticized
by Juliet Jacobs, Geography Intern Updated January 23, 2018
LBJ and Walter W. Rostow. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images
Geographers often seek to categorize places using a scale of development,
frequently dividing nations into the “developed” and “developing,” “first
world” and “third world,” or “core” and “periphery.” All of these labels are
based on judging a country’s development, but this raises the question:
what exactly does it mean to be “developed,” and why have some countries
developed while others have not? Since the beginning of the twentieth
century, geographers and those involved with the vast field of
Development Studies have sought to answer this question, and in the
process, have come up with many different models to explain this
Rostow’s Stages of Economic Growth and Development 13/09/2018, 7+54
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W.W. Rostow and the Stages of Economic Growth
One of the key thinkers in twentieth-century Development Studies was
W.W. Rostow, an American economist, and government official. Prior to
Rostow, approaches to development had been based on the assumption
that “modernization” was characterized by the Western world (wealthier,
more powerful countries at the time), which were able to advance from the
initial stages of underdevelopment. Accordingly, other countries should
model themselves after the West, aspiring to a “modern” state of capitalism
and a liberal democracy. Using these ideas, Rostow penned his classic
“Stages of Economic Growth” in 1960, which presented five steps through
which all countries must pass to become developed: 1) traditional society,
2) preconditions to take-off, 3) take-off, 4) drive to maturity and 5) age of
high mass consumption. The model asserted that all countries exist
somewhere on this linear spectrum, and climb upward through each stage
in the development process:
Traditional Society: This stage is characterized by a subsistent,
agricultural based economy, with intensive labor and low levels of trading,
and a population that does not have a scientific perspective on the world
and technology.
Preconditions to Take-off: Here, a society begins to develop
manufacturing, and a more national/international, as opposed to regional,
Take-off: Rostow describes this stage as a short period of intensive
growth, in which industrialization begins to occur, and workers and
institutions become concentrated around a new industry.
Drive to Maturity: This stage takes place over a long period of time, as
standards of living rise, use of technology increases, and the national
economy grows and diversifies.
Age of High Mass Consumption: At the time of writing, Rostow
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believed that Western countries, most notably the United States, occupied
this last “developed” stage. Here, a country’s economy flourishes in a
capitalist system, characterized by mass production and consumerism.
Rostow’s Model in Context
Rostow’s Stages of Growth model is one of the most influential
development theories of the twentieth century. It was, however, also
grounded in the historical and political context in which he wrote. “Stages
of Economic Growth” was published in 1960, at the height of the Cold War,
and with the subtitle “A Non-Communist Manifesto,” it was overtly
political. Rostow was fiercely anti-communist and right-wing; he modeled
his theory after western capitalist countries, which had industrialized and
urbanized. As a staff member in President John F. Kennedy’s
administration, Rostow promoted his development model as part of U.S.
foreign policy. Rostow’s model illustrates a desire not only to assist lower
income countries in the development process but also to assert the United
States’ influence over that of communist Russia.
Stages of Economic Growth in Practice: Singapore
Industrialization, urbanization, and trade in the vein of Rostow’s model are
still seen by many as a roadmap for a country’s development. Singapore is
one of the best examples of a country that grew in this way and is now a
notable player in the global economy. Singapore is a southeast Asian
country with a population of over five million, and when it became
independent in 1965, it did not seem to have any exceptional prospects for
growth. However, it industrialized early, developing profitable
manufacturing and high-tech industries. Singapore is now highly
urbanized, with 100% of the population considered “urban.” It is one of the
most sought-after trade partners in the international market, with a higher
per-capita income than many European countries.
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Criticisms of Rostow’s Model
As the Singapore case shows, Rostow’s model still sheds light on a
successful path to economic development for some countries. However,
there are many criticisms of his model. While Rostow illustrates faith in a
capitalist system, scholars have criticized his bias towards a western model
as the only path towards development. Rostow lays out five succinct steps
towards development and critics have cited that all countries do not
develop in such a linear fashion; some skip steps or take different paths.
Rostow’s theory can be classified as “top- down,” or one that emphasizes a
trickle-down modernization effect from urban industry and western
influence to develop a country as a whole. Later theorists have challenged
this approach, emphasizing a “bottom-up” development paradigm, in
which countries become self- sufficient through local efforts, and urban
industry is not necessary. Rostow also assumes that all countries have a
desire to develop in the same way, with the end goal of high mass
consumption, disregarding the diversity of priorities that each society
holds and different measures of development.
For example, while Singapore is one of the most economically prosperous
countries, it also has one of the highest income disparities in the world.
Finally, Rostow disregards one of the most fundamental geographical
principals: site and situation. Rostow assumes that all countries have an
equal chance to develop, without regard to population size, natural
resources, or location. Singapore, for instance, has one of the world’s
busiest trading ports, but this would not be possible without its
advantageous geography as an island nation between Indonesia and
In spite of the many critiques of Rostow’s model, it is still one of the most
widely cited development theories and is a primary example of the
intersection of geography, economics, and politics.
Rostow’s Stages of Economic Growth and Development 13/09/2018, 7+54
https://www.thoughtco.com/rostows-stages-of-growth-development-model-1434564 Page 5 of 5
Binns, Tony, et al. Geographies of Development: An Introduction to
Development Studies, 3rd ed. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2008.
“Singapore.” CIA World Factbook, 2012. Central Intelligence Agency. 21
August 2012.

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