Whether you're planning for retirement or have already retired, the one thing you'll probably want from your investments is consistency. What 2020 has shown investors is just how volatile the stock market can be; stock prices can rise or fall without warning. That's why it's important to have pillars in your portfolio that you can rely on for some stability and dividend income, especially if you're on a fixed income.

Two healthcare stocks that are ideal in these cases are Becton, Dickinson (NYSE:BDX) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). They've both been paying and increasing dividends for more than 40 years in a row and can provide you with reliable payouts for the foreseeable future. And their robust businesses can also help generate strong returns for your portfolio. Here's a closer look at both of these companies:

1. Becton, Dickinson

Medical device maker Becton, Dickinson (BD) is a great long-term investment because its products are crucial for the healthcare industry and they serve many different purposes. From diagnostics to surgery to medication delivery, the New Jersey-based company has diverse segments that are not dependent on current economic conditions for demand. As long as hospitals are busy, there's going to be a need for intravenous catheters, syringes, grafts, and the other items BD supplies. 

Four seniors walking together outdoors.

Image source: Getty Images.

This ongoing demand for medical products has helped the company steadily increase its revenue over the years. From $8.4 billion in 2014 to $17.3 billion in 2019, BD's top line grew by 105% in five years, averaging a compounded annual growth rate of 15.4% during that time. Meanwhile, it's been generating profits along the way and consistently staying in the black.

BD did face challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of hospitals deferring procedures to focus on the coronavirus. On Aug. 6, it released its third-quarter results, which showed revenue of $3.9 billion for the third quarter ending June 30 -- down 11.4% year over year. But these trends aren't likely to persist; they're more an anomaly due to the pandemic than an ongoing situation. The company's results should improve in the fourth quarter as things slowly progress toward normal.

The COVID-19 crisis has also created an opportunity for BD: On July 6, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an emergency use authorization for the company's SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen test, which can produce results in just 15 minutes. On Sept. 30, the company informed investors it had gotten the OK to sell the test in Europe as well, receiving the all-important CE Mark that signifies its safety and compliance with European standards. BD expects to produce 8 million of the tests every month; by March of 2021, that number will rise to 12 million.

BD's versatility and adaptability make it a perfect stock for retirement, as investors can expect both short- and long-term stability from this investment. And its dividend income can be a great source of recurring income for retirees. BD has increased its payouts for over four decades in a row, and its quarterly payments of $0.79 yield 1.3% annually. Although that's less than the S&P 500 average of about 2%, it's a safe dividend that will likely continue increasing over the years.

2. Johnson & Johnson

Another great long-term stock, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has been plagued by legal problems in recent years, but it has been able to continue generating strong results for investors -- in each of the past two years, its net earnings topped $15 billion.

Like BD, J&J also suffered a decline in its most recent quarterly results due to COVID-19. In its second-quarter earnings, released July 16 for the period ending June 28, sales of $18.3 billion were down 10.8% year over year. Its medical device segment incurred the biggest drop in revenue, falling 33.9% to $4.3 billion in sales. But its pharmaceutical division grew by 2.1% to $10.8 billion as consumers stocked up on essentials during lockdowns.

J&J is also playing a potentially critical role in COVID-19, as it's one of the companies that's working on a vaccine. Last month, J&J started its phase 3 trials for its vaccine candidate, which will be made up of just a single dose (as opposed to two doses for other candidates), which could allow the trial results to come in quicker. Results from its phase 1/2 trials showed that it was safe and that it "induced a strong neutralizing antibody response in nearly all participants aged 18 years and older."

And while J&J is taking on new opportunities today, the company's also a great dividend stock to hold even if you aren't looking for long-term growth. On April 14, J&J hiked its dividend payments for a 58th year in a row, falling squarely into the category of a Dividend King. Its quarterly payments of $1.01 yield 2.7% annually.

Which is the better retirement stock?

Before deciding which stock is the better investment, let's look at how both are doing this year against the S&P 500:

BDX Chart

BDX data by YCharts

Both stocks are underperforming the index, but BD is notably worse than J&J, down more than 12% year to date. Of these two healthcare giants, J&J looks to be the better buy overall for both retirees and people who are investing for retirement. Its long-term stability coupled with its stronger dividend makes it an ideal stock whether you want recurring income you can count on or just an investment that you can expect to grow in value over the years.