Investors who want to put their money to work for them in the stock market are justifiably nervous about buying shares of anything lately. The benchmark S&P 500 index that tracks the largest publicly traded businesses is down a frightening 17% from the peak it reached in January. The Nasdaq Composite index, which tracks a lot more growth stocks than the S&P 500, is down a stunning 30% from the peak it set less than a year ago.

Rather than completely staying on the sidelines, cautious investors are increasingly attracted to dividend-paying stocks. With inflation on the rise, it's easy to understand why. According to Fidelity, dividend stocks in the S&P 500 contributed 54% of the index's total return during periods when inflation averaged 5% or higher.

Smart investor looking for dividend stocks to buy.

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We know that dividend-paying stocks generally outperform companies that haven't committed to distributing profits. We also know that not all dividend payers have what it takes to maintain and raise their quarterly payouts. 

Investors who want a positive long-term return that they can rely on should consider these dividend-paying stocks. Both have a long history of raising their dividend payouts. There's also a good chance they can continue the tradition for many years to come. 

AbbVie

AbbVie (ABBV -0.99%) was the biopharmaceutical segment of Abbott Laboratories until it spun off as a separate company nearly a decade ago. Abbott Laboratories recently declared its 394th consecutive quarterly dividend payment, and it's increased that payment every year for 50 consecutive years.

AbbVie has continued Abbott's commitment to steadily increasing its dividend year after year but at a much faster pace. The drugmaker's payout has soared a whopping 270% since 2013. 

At recent prices, shares of AbbVie offer an above-average 3.6% yield. This is well above the average yield paid by dividend stocks in the S&P 500, which is a paltry 1.7% right now.

AbbVie offers an above-average dividend yield right now because U.S. sales of its lead drug, Humira, will fall in response to competition from lower-priced biosimilar versions that will enter the market in 2023.

Humira's an anti-inflammation injection mainly used to treat arthritis and psoriasis. In 2018, AbbVie launched Rinvoq to treat arthritis and Skyrizi to treat psoriasis, and they're already on pace to offset impending Humira losses. The pair are already on pace to generate $8.4 billion annually and AbbVie expects more than $15 billion in 2025.

Johnson & Johnson

If you're impressed by AbbVie's and Abbott's commitment to dividend growth, just wait until you hear about Johnson & Johnson (JNJ -0.02%). This April the company increased its quarterly payout for the 60th year in a row.

You're no doubt familiar with J&J's consumer health brands because it practically invented the industry over a century ago. For several years, though, the company's pharmaceutical segment has been responsible for a majority of total revenue and an even larger share of total profits. For this reason, the company will spin off its consumer health business into a separate entity to be named Kenvue in the second half of 2023.

At recent prices, shares of J&J offer a 2.6% yield that investors can depend on to continue growing. The company used three-fifths of its earnings over the past year to meet its dividend obligation. This is a reasonable payout ratio that should give J&J enough flexibility to adjust its dividend in line with earnings growth over the next several years.

Investors can look forward to J&J's drug development pipeline driving growth for the business that remains. Management expects annual pharmaceutical sales to rise from $52 billion in 2021 to $60 billion in 2025. Buying J&J stock now, then holding it through the Kenvue spin-off and over the long run gives you a great chance to come out way ahead.