Pupils who are excluded from school aged 12 are four times more likely than other children to be jailed as adults.
A study found boys, children living in single-parent families and those from the poorest communities were most likely to be expelled.
Researchers compared the outcomes of youngsters who had been referred to the children’s hearing system by age 12 with a closely matched group involved in equally serious offending who had not been referred.
The team found those who had been referred were about five times more likely to end up in prison by the age of 24.
More than 4,000 people who started secondary school in 1998 were tracked during the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime conducted by Edinburgh University.
Pupils from more affluent areas and those from two-parent families were shown greater tolerance, and were far less likely to be barred from school.
Professor Lesley McAra, head of the university’s School of Law, said: “We need to ensure that intervention does not label and stigmatise.”