It may not be a popular notion, but family finances appear to be one of the most important factors in determining a child’s academic capabilities.

Research by Ochanomizu University professor Hiroaki Mimizuka, reported at a recent academic conference of the Japan Society of Educational Sociology, indicates that the more affluent a family is, the better a child performs academically.

Mimizuka checked how the family incomes of students in the sixth grade of elementary school influenced their math test results. He conducted the study in a city with a population of about 250,000 in the Kanto region.

For kids from families with less than 5 million yen in annual income, the average score was 41.9, but it rose to an average of 42.7 for those from families with 5 million yen to 7 million yen a year and 54.4 for those with 7 million yen to 10 million yen.

Children scored 65.9 points on average if their family income exceeded 10 million yen.

At the low end of the scale, students from families whose annual income was 2 million yen to 3 million yen, scored an average of 31.6, while at the other end of the spectrum it jumped to 66.5 in families with more than 15 million yen.

“The wealthier a family is, the more it can spend on out-of-school education, such as private tutoring schools (“juku”), and this must be behind the survey results,” Mimizuka said, quoting another part of his study.

It found that the average math test was 35.3 for children whose families spend no money on out-of-school education, while the figure rose to 49.9 in the case of those from families spending 10,000 yen to 30,000 yen a month. Children scored 78.4 on average if they benefited from more than 50,000 yen in after-school education fees.

Factors other than family income are also believed to affect children’s academic performances, Mimizuka said, citing parental expectations and the cultural background of a family — whether, for example, it has a large number of books and what kind of TV programs its members watch.

Mimizuka suggested even these factors may be related to family income.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised to create a society in which people will be given a “second chance” if they fail, but Mimizuka said the problem is not whether people get a second chance but that “they cannot stand at the same starting line.”

“The differences in children’s academic capabilities stem largely from gaps in the incomes of the families in which they happened to be born,” Mimizuka said. “We have to keep fair rules from the start if we are going to try to activate our society by creating competition among people. If not, this will lead to an exploitative society.”

He said it isn’t necessarily wise to generalize the findings into a national trend as the data were collected in an urban area. “However, such a trend will reach outlying areas gradually,” he said.

If the tendency of family income to affect a child’s academic performance remains unchanged, it will lead to the social immobilization of the haves and have-nots, Mimizuka suggested.

“Under such circumstances, social vitality will be lost, while the ideal that opportunities are equally open to everyone will be forgotten,” he said.

At the academic conference, some voiced doubts about revealing the survey results. Mimizuka summed up the thinking as, “It could further prompt wealthy families to spend more on education for their children, which will bring about wider social disparities.”

But he said, “I believe it is important for society to share realities in order to choose appropriate directions.”

Commenting on the survey results, Takao Saito, a freelance journalist who covers social disparity issues, said, “While the all-Japanese-are-middle-class mentality has prevailed for a long time without concrete discussions, this research shows the existence of certain kinds of class in Japanese society.

“I believe the significance of compulsory education is to care for children who have natural handicaps as a social responsibility and to minimize the handicaps caused by family situations,” Saito said.

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