Investing isn't easy. Even Warren Buffett counsels that most investors should invest in a low-cost index like the S&P 500. That way, "you'll be buying into a wonderful industry, which in effect is all of American industry," he says.

But there are, of course, companies whose long-term fortunes differ substantially from the index. In this series, we look at how members of the S&P 500 have performed compared with the index itself.

Step on up, Becton Dickinson (NYSE: BDX).

Becton Dickinson shares have crushed the S&P 500 over the last three decades:

Bdxsp

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Since 1980, shares returned an average of 13.8% a year; compared with 11.1% a year for the S&P (both include dividends). That difference adds up fast. One thousand dollars invested in the S&P in 1980 would be worth $29,400 today. In Becton Dickinson, it'd be worth $62,750.

Dividends accounted for a lot of those gains. Compounded since 1980, dividends have made up about two-thirds of Becton Dickinson's total returns. For the S&P, dividends account for 41.6% of total returns.

Now have a look at how Becton Dickinson earnings compared with S&P 500 earnings:

Bdxearnings

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Again, major outperformance. Since 1995, Becton Dickinson's earnings per share have grown by an average of 11.6% a year, compared with 6% a year for the broader index.

What's it all meant for valuations? Not much. Becton Dickinson has traded for an average just over 23 times earnings since 1980 -- not much different than the 21 times for the broader S&P 500.

Through it all, Becton Dickinson shares have clearly been outperformers over the last three decades.  

Of course, the important question is whether that will continue. That's where you come in. Our CAPS community currently ranks Becton Dickinson with a five-star rating (out of five). Do you disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or add Becton Dickinson to My Watchlist.