A tale of 2020 in 20 McKinsey charts

See the story of this unique year through data visualizations from our Charting the Path to the Next Normal series.

This year, we launched a new series to highlight our best charts and data visualizations—the ones that deserved lives of their own outside the articles they were originally created for. Every weekday, we post a selection from one of our highly skilled data-visualization editors to our collection page, Charting the Path to the Next Normal. As we look back at the year that was, these daily charts tell a story about our changing world, from the early days of lockdowns and a tumultuous summer to ending the year on a hopeful note. While uncertainty remains, and each chart in isolation offers but one lens on the landscape, the themes emerging from the collection as a whole provide unique insight into the many disruptions 2020 visited on us.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 cases—and its devastating effects on human lives and livelihoods—will forever define 2020. Transmission and fatality rates were an early concern. It also quickly became apparent that the virus had unequal effects across populations and hit minority communities particularly hard. We saw that the coronavirus discriminates based on socioeconomic status, too. People with severe housing problems—or who are unemployed, incarcerated, or impoverished—are more vulnerable to contracting the virus than the general population.

(Published in September)

The sad truth is that in the United States, the coronavirus hit Black communities hardest. That was only compounded by the worldwide outrage over the killing of George Floyd.

The effects on minority communities weren’t limited to health and employment concerns. Minority-owned small businesses went into the crisis more vulnerable than nonminority-owned businesses. These businesses employ more than 8.7 million people and are concentrated in the industries most immediately affected by the pandemic.

(Published in June)

Vulnerable ethnic and socioeconomic groups are more likely to have underlying health conditions that could make a case of COVID-19 more severe—and more deadly. So it became clear that addressing those conditions—including obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure—could protect millions against future pandemics.

(Published in July)

There’s an urgency to getting chronic conditions under control. The world’s population is aging, and many of the conditions we’re concerned about are associated with age and lifestyle. Current trends suggest that the incidence of those diseases will rise over the next 20 years, while infectious diseases may decline.

(Published in July)

Concerns about the threats to health of human-to-human contact put nearly every country in the world into some form of lockdown. Within a month of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the pandemic, students in 191 countries—1.6 billion children—were now learning from home.

(Published in May)

Widespread school shutdowns made life complicated for workers everywhere—particularly working mothers, who bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities. Those challenges and the ongoing lack of parity in the workplace had as many as two million women considering leaving the workforce, according to our latest Women in the Workplace research.

We also found that if nothing is done to address the gender-parity issue during this crisis, it could cost the world $1 trillion by 2030. In contrast, taking action on the issue now could add $13 trillion to global GDP in the same period, compared with the “do nothing” scenario.

(Published in July)

Even for those with no childcare issues, getting to and from work became a problem if it required any form of shared mobility. Only 5 to 8 percent of respondents to our May consumer survey said they would feel safe commuting that way.

(Published in August)

Lockdowns had a near-immediate effect on consumer behavior, too. In Europe, shoppers responding to our mid-April consumer-sentiment surveys said they expected to spend less on everything except groceries and online entertainment.

(Published in May)

Asian countries were the first to enter lockdowns. Ordinary human contact was now a threat to lives, livelihoods, and entire economies. Digital became the way to get many things done—from visits to doctors to shopping to socializing. The reliance by Asian governments and businesses on six digital and mobile technologies would become a model for the world.

(Published in May)

Governments throughout the world realized early that health-related lockdowns would lead to widescale economic damage. With businesses shut down and—in some countries—record unemployment, they moved quickly to prop up their economies and support their people. Globally, governments allocated a stunning $10 trillion for economic stimulus in just two months. That was triple what they spent during the entire 2008–09 financial crisis.

(Published in June)

One of the lessons of this pandemic is that the world needs to be better prepared for the next one. In July, when estimates of the pandemic’s economic damage were between $9 trillion and $33 trillion, we estimated that relatively small investments in preventive measures could limit future fallout substantially.

(Published in July)

While the economic damage unleashed by the pandemic has been—and continues to be—significant, it’s dwarfed by the loss of life it caused and the toll it took on people’s happiness and mental health. When we sought to estimate the monetary equivalent of the hit to Europeans’ happiness, we found that the 0.38-point drop in Europeans’ life satisfaction (on a 10-point scale) during April translated into the equivalent of up to 3.5 times the continent’s reduction in income per capita.

(Published in June)

Turning to the private sector, the effects of the pandemic were uneven across industries. Some of this was inevitable, just because different types of crises affect industries differently. We analyzed 23 industry value chains to assess their exposure to pandemics, cyberattacks, geophysical events, heat stress, flooding, and trade disputes. Flip through the resulting index to see how your industry would be affected by each type of shock.

(Published in August)

The good news for companies, though, is that their individual destinies are not preordained by the industries they’re in. Our analysis of company performance during and after the last financial crisis showed that those who took steps to improve their resiliency early continued to outperform their peers—and widen their lead—for at least a decade.

(Published in October)

The problem was that some executives didn’t get the memo—at least right away. Those who responded to an April survey on innovation through crisis told us they had prioritized efficiency and keeping their core business stable over innovation. They expected to reprioritize innovation when the crisis passes.

(Published in July)

One silver lining for organizations, though, was the rapid shift to digital. Companies digitized many activities 20 to 25 times faster than they had previously thought possible. When it came to remote working, companies moved 43 times more quickly than expected.

(Published in October)

Another positive development was the shift to agile leadership, which many expect to become permanent. For example, consumer and retail executives we surveyed increasingly say they favor leaders who empower others and promote an open environment over those who practice authoritative or consultative leadership.

(Published in November)

Throughout the year, many questioned whether the world could control a pandemic while also addressing other global challenges, not least of which includes climate change. Could a low-carbon agenda for recovering from the COVID-19 crisis create jobs and help the economy? According to one study, yes. It suggested that government spending on renewables creates 50 more jobs per $10 million invested than spending on fossil fuels.

(Published in June)

As the world headed into the Northern Hemisphere’s winter, concerns arose that demand for COVID-19 testing could triple. Partly, this was because the virus was expected to see a resurgence as weather turned colder and people spent more time inside. But it was also because flu season was approaching. And flu-like symptoms—which are similar to COVID-19 symptoms—are, on average, three times higher in the winter than in the spring.

(Published in October)

But we ended the year on an optimistic note. Two promising vaccines showed around 95 percent effectiveness in clinical trials. Thoughts naturally turned to what that meant for a return to normalcy. How many people would have to be vaccinated to protect large swaths of the population? To see the estimate for the United States, flip through the charts here.

(Published in December)


For more on the pandemic and the world’s response to it, see McKinsey Global Publishing’s full collection of insights on the next normal beyond the coronavirus.

To get a roundup of these charts delivered weekly to your inbox, sign up for The Week in Charts newsletter at McKinsey.com/subscriptions.

Our data-visualization editors, Richard Johnson, Matt Perry, and Jonathon Rivait, created all the charts featured in this collection and choose the best of their creations daily for our Charting the Path to the Next Normal series. This collection was assembled by Shubham Bassi, Mike Borruso, Torea Frey, Marcelo Garza, Arun Gupta, Julie Macias, Janet Michaud, Christine Nguyen, Kanika Punwani, Charmaine Rice, and Nathan Wilson.

This page is just part of our full year-end series celebrating the best of McKinsey Global Publishing in 2020. See the full collection at, 2020 year in review: Highlights from our publishing.