How many Americans own stocks? Here's an answer, from Time magazine:

The total number of U.S. stockholders receiving [dividends] is ... at a new high. The latest New York Stock Exchange study showed 12,490,000 individual shareholders of record. … The number of stockholders is now bigger than the number of factory workers. One in every four U.S. households gets a dividend check or checks v. one in seven only seven years ago.

Impressive, eh? But get this -- that article is from 1959! There are considerably more shareholders today. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, about 25 million Americans own stock in their employer -- twice as many people as owned stock at all nearly 30 years ago. Meanwhile, roughly half of all Americans own stock -- through mutual funds and directly in brokerage accounts. That adds up to almost 57 million households, per the Investment Company Institute.

You're probably among that group, if you're reading The Motley Fool. (If you're not but you want to be, learn more in our Investing Basics nook.) And here's another guess: There's a good chance you own at least one of the following stocks, because they're among the most widely held in America:

  • Citigroup (NYSE:C)
  • Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO)
  • General Electric (NYSE:GE)
  • Merck (NYSE:MRK)
  • Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)
  • Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT)

Now ... here's what "widely held" means. According to IBM's website, the company has 585,572 "stockholders of record." That sure seems like a lot, but it actually understates ownership considerably. That's because many of us own stocks in "street name," through our brokerages or other institutions. If you add in the folks who own shares through banks and brokerages, as well as the many people who own some shares of IBM through mutual funds in their portfolios, there are probably much more than a million shareholders.

Another tidbit from that 1959 Time article: "From 1950 to 1959, rapidly rising stock prices cut the average yield to a new buyer of the stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average from 6.63% to 3.14%." That serves as a good reminder of how dividend yields fall as stock prices rise, and vice versa. Today, the average yield for the Dow is around 2.3% -- even lower. For recommendations of promising companies that pay hefty dividends, test-drive our Income Investor newsletter service.