The aim of the present paper is to study the effects of non-linear devices on the reliability-based optimal design of structural systems subject to stochastic excitation. One-dimensional hysteretic devices are used for modelling the non-linear system behavior while non-stationary filtered white noise processes are utilized to represent the stochastic excitation. The reliability-based optimization problem is formulated as the minimization of the expected cost of the structure for a specified failure probability. Failure is assumed to occur when any one of the output states of interest exceeds in magnitude some specified threshold level within a given time duration. Failure probabilities are approximated locally in terms of the design variables during the optimization process in a parallel computing environment. The approximations are based on a local interpolation scheme and on an efficient simulation technique. Specifically, a subset simulation scheme is adopted and integrated into the proposed optimization process. The local approximations are then used to define a series of explicit approximate optimization problems. A sensitivity analysis is performed at the final design in order to evaluate its robustness with respect to design and system parameters. Numerical examples are presented in order to illustrate the effects of hysteretic devices on the design of two structural systems subject to earthquake excitation. The obtained results indicate that the non-linear devices have a significant effect on the reliability and global performance of the structural systems. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.