The change, identified by the polling organisation MORI, is part of a deep-seated global shift in values which observers argue will act as a brake on the world economy. A quarter of a century ago, the proportion of so-called "post-materialists" in Britain was only one in 20.
For the first time, there are also more post-materialists than "materialists" - people who attach a high personal value to economic issues - in the British population. Only 15 per cent class themselves as materialists.
The findings have emergedfrom preliminary work by MORI for the world values survey, which will begin this autumn and cover 45 countries and about three-quarters of the world's population. MORI is handling the analysis of data in the UK.
The shift to post-materialism in Western society has been described as the "silent revolution." It appears to accompany urbanisation and industrialisation and is strongly linked to environmental awareness, a more tolerant sexual outlook and a rejection of consumerist lifestyles.
However, the post-materialists may be bad news for governments, since they appear to form an important part of Britain's new "culture of protest". They are, for example, much more dissatisfied with the political status quo and much more likely to campaign against it.
Economically they are also strong supporters of the "feelbad" tendency. More than a third of post-materialists, for example, feel that economic conditions will deteriorate.
According to Bob Worcester, chairman of MORI, this may be because they appreciate the environmental limits to economic growth; but he argues that such attitudes are already "dampening" the prospects for a consumption- led economic rebound.
Alongside the growth in post-materialism, international studies by MORI and others have identified what it calls "Euro-American currents". These include a decline in confidence in large institutions, decreased dependence on the state, a preference for small, flexible, grassroots organisations and a tendency for social change to be "bottom-up, not top-down" - initiated by people rather than institutions. Post-materialists are, for example, happier at the prospect of flexible working and having several jobs in a lifetime. Materialists want a job for life.