Dividend-paying companies are an oasis in the desert of underperforming stocks. They offer solid payouts today and the promise of capital gains tomorrow. According to a study by Ibbotson, reinvested dividends made up about 40% of total stock returns from 1926 to 2006. In fact, dividend investing is so appealing that superinvestor Warren Buffett has made it a significant component of his portfolio.

When searching for great dividend stocks, it makes a lot of sense to start with companies that have been playing the dividend game the longest. Standard & Poor's has culled the dividend winners from the also-rans in a list it calls the "dividend aristocrats."

Let's examine the top 10 fastest-growing yields among these dividend aristocrats. For context, I've also included their trailing yield.

Company

Trailing Yield

5-Year Dividend
Growth Rate

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL)

6.3%

64.7%

Lowe's (NYSE: LOW)

1.7%

32%

McDonald's (NYSE: MCD)

3.2%

26.8%

Walgreen (NYSE: WAG)

1.8%

21.6%

AFLAC (NYSE: AFL)

2.1%

21.4%

Target (NYSE: TGT)

1.7%

18.5%

W.W. Grainger (NYSE: GWW)

1.6%

17.8%

Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT)

2.3%

17.8%

VF Corp. (NYSE: VFC)

2.9%

17.3%

Automatic Data Processing (Nasdaq: ADP)

3.1%

17%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

These aren't formal recommendations -- just ideas for your own further research. Still, they could give you a great start toward find companies capable of paying rising dividends for a quarter-century or more. S&P just announced its dividend aristocrats for 2011, and you can see the top yielders here.

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These are a handful of the thousands of public companies that can help you secure a third income for life. If you'd like to see which others make the cut, try Income Investor free for the next 30 days.

Jim Royal, Ph.D., owns none of the companies mentioned. Lowe's and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. AFLAC is a Stock Advisor pick. Wal-Mart is a Global Gains recommendation. Automatic Data Processing is an Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares of AFLAC, Lowe's, and Wal-Mart. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.