The recent bear market did little to quench the American public's desire for equity investments, according to a new study.
   It found that the number of households owning equities has increased by 7.1 million since 1999-to a figure that now comprises about half the households in the nation.
   About 57 million households own stock either directly or through mutual funds, according to the joint study by the Securities Industry Association (SIA) and the Investment Company Institute (ICI).
   Ninety percent of equity-owning households own mutual funds, while about half own individual stocks, according to the study.
   Equity ownership has grown through bull and bear markets, including the bear market of 2000-2002-a trend largely fueled by the growth of 401(k)s and other defined contribution retirement plans.
   Between 1999 and 2005, the number of households owning equities through employer-sponsored retirement plans grew by 5.2 million. During the same period, the number of households owning equities outside these plans grew by 2.4 million.
   The study also found that nearly half of all equity-owning households were introduced to equity ownership through employer-sponsored retirement plans.
   This has given rise to differences in ownership habits among different age groups, according to the study. Older investors who did not have access to defined contribution plans in their early working years, for example, largely made their first equity purchase outside a retirement plan. Younger investors, meanwhile, are most likely to have started equity investing inside a retirement plan.
   "As a result, there are clear generational differences among America's individual investors with regard to the types of equities held and the tax status of these investments," according to the study's authors.
   Americans, however, are also dabbling in the stock market beyond just their retirement plans. The study found that 75% of households own stocks or mutual funds outside their retirement plans.