2021: The year in charts

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Our Charting the Path to the Next Normal series was launched in 2020 and offers a daily chart that helps explain a changing world during the pandemic and beyond. Here we’ve curated 21 of this year’s best data visualizations that have illuminated some of the key themes and trends covered in our publishing during year two of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, they capture a lot of what our collective next normal looked and felt like in 2021. Browse through the charts below to learn more about the lingering pandemic, the future of work, the impact of climate change, and digital’s ever-evolving landscape.

The pandemic lingers

While the quick arrival of vaccines buoyed optimism, the persistence of COVID-19 and the rise of variants continue to pose stumbling blocks toward achieving herd immunity. In this new normal, people are learning to live with an endemic disease.

COVID-19 was a leading cause of death in 2020. In 2021 and beyond, it may more closely resemble flu.
Development times for COVID-19 vaccines were highly compressed compared with standard practice.
Our projections of intercontinental flows show Asia (excluding India and China) and Africa will be the biggest recipients of COVID-19 vaccines.

A new talent crisis emerges

The future of work is at a pivotal crossroad—with many workers reassessing their options. During the pandemic, people grappled with finding meaning and purpose in their work. Will the future of work be hybrid, purposeful, inclusive, and built for balance?

Employee hopes and fears for the future reflect a focus on flexibility, well-being, and compensation.
Expanded remote-work options could tempt otherwise satisfied employees to quit.
There are four Black CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. At parity with the Black US population, the number would be no fewer than 60.
Almost half of all employees report being at least somewhat burned out—and that's likely an underrepresentation of the real number.
Most of the skills that companies are increasingly focused on developing are social, emotional, and advanced cognitive.

Sustainability gains steam

Wildfires, lethal heat, flooding, and more: the effects of climate change became increasingly visible in 2021. The COP26 meetings drove a number of commitments as leaders reckoned with what it will take to achieve energy-related sustainable-development goals. Now is the time for action that safeguards Earth and beyond.

Sustainable and inclusive growth can be a dynamic, self-reinforcing combination, combination, but achieving it will require addressing counteracting forces.
Methane from human activity is emitted by five key industries: oil and gas, coal, agriculture, solid waste, and wastewater.
Consumers currently pay a premium for protein alternatives that are important to them.
Over 70,000 more satellites could soon enter orbit if plans come to fruition.

Digital dominates the growth agenda

The pandemic greatly accelerated the embrace of digital technologies, and leading companies that had a digital edge pulled even farther ahead of laggards. Up ahead, clean tech, e-commerce, and increased focus on cybersecurity measures will dominate the digital agenda.

New roads for chip procurement
Et tu, e-tail?
Cybersecurity maturity varies within sectors more than it varies from sector to sector.

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, Nicole Esquerre-Thomas, Richard Johnson, Matt Perry, Jonathon Rivait, and Jessica Wang 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 Mike Borruso, Richard Johnson, Stephen Landau, Charmaine Rice, Katie Shearer, Amanda Soto, Mark Staples, Sarah Thuerk, and Nathan Wilson.

This page is just part of our full year-end series celebrating the best of McKinsey Global Publishing in 2021. See the full collection at, 2021 year in review: Envisioning sustainable, inclusive growth.