Shareholders in U.S. companies are increasingly female, younger and Washingtonian, according to a survey released yesterday by the New York Stock Exchange.

Married women and younger investors have joined the broad band of 47 million investors, from executives to laborers, who are counted as shareholders in U.S. businesses. The NYSE survey shows more than 20 percent of Americans own stock. By contrast, in 1952 only 4.2 percent of the population owned stock, and by 1975, ownership was only 11.9 percent.

The Washington metropolitan area, with a 22 percent increase in stock owners, emerged with the nation's fourth-largest number of shareholders, behind the metropolitan areas of New York, Los Angeles-Long Beach and Chicago. With 1.089 million shareholders, the Washington area moved up from seventh place in 1983 when the NYSE last completed an investor survey.

By another measure -- the percentage of residents who own stock -- the Washington-area population also ranked fourth, with 31.8 percent owning shares, a figure topped only by Nassau-Suffolk on Long Island, San Jose and San Francisco.

Nationally, the emergence of individual retirement accounts and a bull market that has spanned more than three years were credited with turning many small wage earners into investors. Stock mutual funds attracted most of the new dollars, with 30.3 percent of the stockholders owning these funds, up from 23.9 percent two years ago.

Survey results were announced by NYSE Chairman John J. Phelan at the Securities Industry Association convention in Florida. The results were based on a random sampling of 5,001 respondents. Ironically, the number of investors holding only NYSE-listed stocks dropped from 49.9 percent to 47.1 percent.

Who are the new stockholders that are causing both an increase in the number and percentage of investors? According to the NYSE survey, the typical new adult shareholder in 1985 was female, 34 years old, married and working in a professional or technical job and had a $2,200 portfolio and a household income of about $35,000 a year. About 62 percent of the new shareholders had an individual retirement account or a Keogh account.

In 1983, the typical new adult shareholder also was a 34-year-old female with a $2,200 portfolio, but worked in a clerical or sales position and had a household income of $30,000. Then, 46 percent had a retirement account.

The average age of shareowners continued to decline, falling to 44 this year, compared with 44.5 in 1983 and 52.5 in 1975.

An occupational breakdown showed that 41.9 percent of shares are owned by professionals and managers; 30.6 percent by craftsmen, service workers, farmers and laborers, and 27.5 percent by women not listed in a job category, retired persons and military personnel.

The high level of stock ownership in the Washington area is not surprising with its "higher incomes, smaller household sizes and more spare money," according to George Grier, a longtime Washington-area demographer with Grier Partnership of Silver Spring.

His thoughts were echoed by Stephen Fuller, professor of urban and regional planning at George Washington University, who said high income levels in the Washington area left a substantial amount of money after paying for basic necessities that is funnelled into investments, especially individual retirement accounts.

In 1984, Washington-area households, he said, had $36,002 in effective buying income, putting Washington ninth out of 316 metropolitan areas.

Leslie J. Silverstone, manager of a Dean Witter office in downtown Washington, said that Washington's high ranking in stock ownership was the result of stable employment and high per capita incomes provided by federal jobs, the growth of two-income families and high levels of education and sophistication. "People here are highly paid and have job security and can take a certain amount of risk with their money," he said.

Silverstone, a Washington broker for 25 years, said the level of investment seemed to be reflected in the heavy concentration of brokers in the metropolitan area. "Are they here because there is so much business or is there so much business because they are here?" he asked. "It is probably the latter rather than the former." He noted, however, that the Washington atmosphere seemed to be "conducive to creating new shareholders."

W. Michael Keenan, associate professor of finance at the New York University graduate school of business, attributed some of the increased interest in stocks to the bull market that began in August 1982. He said interest in mutual funds had been sparked not only by IRAs, but also by the heavy marketing efforts on their behalf. "Many people feel that the stock market doesn't want them unless they have a $100,000 portfolio," he said.

The increased number of women investing followed the patterns he observed at NYU, he said, where women once constituted only 10 percent of MBA students. Today, he said, 55 percent of MBA students are women.

George M. Ferris Jr. chief executive of Ferris & Co., one of Washington's oldest securities firms, said the changes in stock ownership in the area reflect broader changes. "What was a town is maturing as a city." What once was thought of as only a government town, he said, "is now growing into a major metropolitan area" with a large business and industry element.