The use of higher-order strain-gradient models in mechanics is studied. First, existing second-gradient models from the literature are investigated analytically. In general, two classes of second-order strain-gradient models can be distinguished: one class of models has a direct link with the underlying microstructure, but reveals instability for deformation patterns of a relatively short wave length, while the other class of models does not have a direct link with the microstructure, but stability is unconditionally guaranteed. To combine the advantageous properties of the two classes of second-gradient models, a new, fourth-order strain-gradient model, which is unconditionally stable, is derived from a discrete microstructure. The fourth-gradient model and the second-gradient models are compared under static and dynamic loading conditions. A numerical approach is followed, whereby the element-free Galerkin method is used. For the second-gradient model that has been derived from the microstructure, it is found that the model becomes unstable for a limited number of wave lengths, while in dynamics, instabilities are encountered for all shorter wave lengths. Contrarily, the second-gradient model without a direct link to the microstructure behaves in a stable manner, although physically unrealistic results are obtained in dynamics. The fourth-gradient model, with a microstructural basis, gives stable and realistic results in statics as well as in dynamics.