New Zealanders live in the fourth safest country in the world, behind Iceland, Denmark and Austria.

Six out of the top 10 most peaceful countries were European, according to the 2015 Global Peace Index published yesterday by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

The study ranks 162 nations based on factors like the level of violent crime, involvement in conflicts and the degree of militarisation. New Zealand was named fourth safest, down from second last year, and ahead of Switzerland in fifth, and Australia in ninth.

Political and social stability, "relative race harmony", geographical isolation and low levels of corruption and crime were behind the ranking, said international relations expert Professor Robert Patman, of Otago University.

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"This is a remarkably uncorrupt, honest and decent society, and compared to other countries, this country is incredibly safe."

Most of the safest countries had small populations and were based on "strong welfare state principles".

"If you ever get sick or are in a car accident, you won't be asked to produce a credit card before you get treatment. That also helps build a stable society."

War-torn Syria remains the most dangerous country in the world.